Locust Walk Talk: Martin Luther King Day

Author: Casey Ryan, C’95

The first national King holiday was observed in 1986, eighteen years after Dr. King’s death.  By 1988, Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry Harris Wofford, and his executive assistant, Todd Bernstein realized in the two years since the national observance started, it was becoming for millions just another day off. To address the lack of commitment and understanding of Dr. Kings lifetime of service to others, these two men decided to organize a day of service- a day with the theme, “A Day On not A Day Off.”

Dr. King, delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

At Penn, the African American Resource Center (AARC) hosts Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium for Social Change. Starting on January 12 and extending through February 1, there are presentations, discussions, service events and more scheduled for the Penn community.

Two highlights of the Symposium were 12th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture in Social Justice and Monday’s Day of Service.

John Legend, C ’99, (né Stephens) returned to Penn to give the Lecture in Social Justice at Irvine Auditorium as part of the University’s annual MKL commemorations on January 16. Joining him was Camille Charles, director of the Center for Africana Studies and professor of sociology at Penn.

Charles opened the conversation by asking Legend to recall his journey to Penn. He spoke about his early childhood in Springfield, OH, his travels to Penn and going to college at the precocious age of 16. He shared a humorous anecdote about whether he would finish his last year at Penn or join to Lauryn Hill’s tour – Lauryn chose someone else to play piano and he finished Penn.  This story highlighted the difficult journey of breaking into the music business.

Legend also shared accounts of launching the Show Me Campaign which works to end the cycle of poverty in the United States and around the world. Impressively, he also sits on the boards of the Education Equality Project, Teach for America and the Harlem Village Academics.

All photos by Steve Mincola.

John Legend (Photos by Steve Mincola.)

On Monday’s Day of Service, there were several community events:

  • Children’s Banner Painting: to paint commemorative posters and banners while listening to stories and songs about Dr. King’s life.
  • Helping Hands at Houston Hall: to create personal gifts that will be donated to West Philadelphia area shelters, homes, hospitals and charities.
  • MLK Mentoring Project: to mentor students from the Upward Bound Program, featuring volunteers from the Penn chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers, BGAPSA, and interns from the Christian Association.
  • Philadelphia Reads: Literacy Project: to create books on tape to promote literacy for Philadelphia youth.
  • Community Beautification Projects: to clean, paint and organize at Martha Washington Elementary School, Sayer High School, Sayre Recreation Center, and the Community Education Center in West Philadelphia.

Though Dr. King’s birthday was January 15, there is over a week of MLK Symposium for Social Change events which are open to the Penn community should you find yourself on campus.  For more information, you can visit the AARC’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium for Social Change calendar.


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Filed under Campus Life, Casey R., Locust Walk Talk

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