Symposium on Social Change Highlights Events at Penn Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820January 8, 2014

The University of Pennsylvania will remember Martin Luther King Jr. with its 19th Annual Commemorative Symposium on Social Change, a series of nearly 30 community events, Jan. 14-31.

Organized by Penn’s African-American Resource Center, the MLK Symposium events are free and open to the public. They include film screenings, workshops, lectures, award ceremonies, musical performances, panel discussions and an art exhibit.

“The MLK Symposium has grown into a celebration of cultural and racial diversity, embracing social justice, volunteerism and a true sense of community,” Robert Carter, associate director at Penn’s AARC and executive co-chair for the Commemorative Symposium Planning Committee, said.

This year’s MLK Lecture in Social Justice features
Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Several other key events include the Interfaith Program and Awards Commemoration with guest speaker Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, who is a Penn alumnus; “Jazz for King,” an evening of jazz music and poetry readings; and “Performance Art for Social Change,” featuring PLP The Unity.

The centerpiece is the annual Day of Service, Monday, Jan. 20, which begins with a breakfast for volunteers at 8:30 a.m. in Houston Hall. There is a variety of community service projects, recording books-on-tape to promote literacy, youth mentoring and several beautification efforts at neighboring schools, such as Martha Washington and Henry C. Lea Elementary.

AARC will introduce two new activities to the MLK Day of Service this year in an effort to have a broader impact on the community.

A 90-minute college application and preparation workshop for local high school students will teach 50 youth how to apply to college and how to write personal statements for college admission. Also, Wharton professor Keith Weigelt will lead a financial literacy workshop for adults on money, savings and understanding and improving credit scores. Attendees will also be able to sign up for a free three-week financial literacy class.

“Like Dr. King, we believe that the function of education is to teach people to think intensively and critically,” said Valerie Dorsey Allen, director at the AARC. “Dr. King’s vision of economic and educational justice encompasses the ideas of increased access and local engagement. We hope these two workshops will have a lasting impact on the life of the participants, helping them to think about their education, credit and finances.”

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

“This is a chance for Penn students, faculty and staff to spend time with our neighbors in West Philadelphia,” Carter said. “The event brings together people with different ideas to work together, help others and build understanding. What we can accomplish in one day can go a long way.”

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