Penn Launches Commemorative Symposium on Social Change Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820January 7, 2013

PHILADELPHIA — The University of Pennsylvania will remember Martin Luther King Jr. with its 18th Annual Commemorative Symposium on Social Change, a series of nearly 25 community events Jan. 15-Feb. 1.

All MLK Symposium events are free and open to the public.  They include film screenings, workshops, award ceremonies, musical performances and panel discussions covering contemporary topics such as ways institutions of higher learning can reduce violence in urban communities and the state of civil rights today.

The annual MLK Symposium has grown into three weeks worth of events that celebrate cultural and racial diversity, but also social justice, volunteerism and a true sense of community,” Robert Carter, associate director at Penn’s African-American Resource Center and executive co-chair for the Commemorative Symposium Planning Committee, said.
The centerpiece of the annual MLK Symposium at Penn is the Day of Service, Monday, Jan. 21, which begins with a breakfast for volunteers at 8:30 a.m. in Houston Hall. 

Participants will then go on to a variety of community service projects, including making personal gifts that will be donated to West Philadelphia area shelters, hospitals and charities; recording books-on-tape to promote literacy; youth mentoring; and several beautification efforts in which volunteers will clean, paint and organize at Martha Washington Elementary School and Sayre High School.

“Schools and local organizations have to do more with less,” said Carter, who was only a pre-teen when King, Jr. was assassinated.  “The Day of Service is a resource for nearby recreation centers and schools to have some much-needed work done, so that these places can continue to serve the community.”

In recent years, the annual day of service has welcomed nearly 400 volunteers from all walks of life with different backgrounds, socio-economic status and physical abilities.  But, organizers say that they always are in need of more volunteers.

“There’s no shortage of places where work needs to be done, especially at the schools,” Carter said. “The more volunteers we have, the more we can get accomplished for organizations that, otherwise, would have to pay thousands of dollars for the services that we provide.  And this is a way for Penn students, faculty and staff to spend time with our neighbors in West Philadelphia.  It’s a mixture of people with different ideas, working together, helping others and building understanding.”

“This is a great way to give back to the community without a long-term commitment,” Valerie Dorsey Allen, director at the African-American Resource Center, said.  “Everyone works together for one day -- and this kind of unity and teamwork mirrors Dr. King’s visions of social justice.”

The Day of Service will end with a candlelight vigil procession beginning at 7 p.m. from the W.E. B. DuBois College House at 39th and Walnut streets to remember Martin Luther King Jr.

Other key events during the Symposium include the 12th annual MLK Lecture in Social Justice, featuring Penn alumnus and nine-time Grammy award winner John Legend; the Interfaith Program and Awards Commemoration with guest speakers activist, poet and playwright Sonia Sanchez, along with Bakari Kitwana, the founder of Rap Sessions, journalist, author and activist; “Jazz for King,” an evening of entertainment featuring jazz music and poetry readings; “Let’s Talk About Race,” a frank, interactive discussion designed to take steps toward understanding and peace, led by Howard Stevenson, a professor and psychologist at Penn’s Graduate School of Education; and “Performance Art for Social Change,” featuring PLP The Unity.

“Dr. King would like us to not only do some service to help others, but also to fight those institutions still promoting hate and oppression,” Carter said.  “Clean and spruce up the schools, yes, but also help the school become a better place overall, so that children today can receive a quality education. 

“Dr. King would want for us to do both. What we can accomplish in one day can go a long way.”