Keith Henley, an actor with the American Historical Theatre of Philadelphia, will perform “Martin Luther King, Jr: A Man of Conscience” at the Plainsboro Public Library on Saturday, Jan.20, at 2 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr., one of the world’s great orators, was also a pastor, activist, and humanitarian. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work combating racial inequality through the use of nonviolent civil disobedience. His most famous speech (“I Have a Dream”) was delivered in August 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Henley, who will portray Dr. King at the event, said he doesn’t plan to incorporate the “I Have A Dream” speech into his Jan. 20 performance.
Instead, he will use a sermon, “What Is Man?” that Dr. King delivered shortly before his death. That sermon, he says, is “relevant for our times. It addresses the problems of mankind.”
Because he has learned to tailor his programs to his audience, Henley’s performances are all different.
“If I encounter an audience that includes a lot of children, for example, I obviously can’t go with an adult sermon or speech,” he says.
One such instance took place recently at a library in South Jersey.
“Everyone in the audience was in third grade or younger.” They were having trouble understanding the concept of racism until Henley told them: “Racism is nothing but a big bully.”
Henley says that he looks forward to a give-and-take with the audience after his presentation. “People are still seeking answers from Dr. Martin Luther King. They want to understand how the civil rights struggles of the 1960s are relevant to our situation in the world today.”
Henley graduated from South Carolina State College with a major in Chemistry and minor in mathematics and biology. Later, he went on to study Theatre Education at Camden County College in Blackwood.
He currently owns and operates J.O.Y. Productions, Queenie’s Homemade Sweets and Catering, and Alpha Designs. In addition, he is the artistic director and choreographer for Folkloric Heritage Culture Arts Company Inc. of Cherry Hill.
Henley began his historic interpretation career with Historic Philadelphia Inc. and has since worked for American Historical Theatre and History First Hand, and has performed for the Smithsonian Associates Teaching American History program, Historic Germantown, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia as well as local libraries.
Henley’s presentation has been made possible in cooperation with the American Historical Theatre, a nonprofit organization specializing in first-person living history presentations.
The program has been funded by the NJ Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
For more information, call the library at (609) 275-2897 or go to plainsborolibrary.org.