Tuesday evening at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, the 38th annual banquet was held by the Forum on Black Affairs (FOBA) to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contributions to the African American community, as well as to the United States as a whole.
The banquet hall filled up gradually as the beginning of the banquet to commemorate what would have been King’s 84th birthday approached. Adults and students alike were dressed in semiformal attire and socialized before they took their seats.
FOBA President Leslie Laing opened the banquet by introducing Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who praised the banquet as an event that would strengthen the community.
“It's your leadership, engagement, and commitment that have made Penn State and the surrounding area an increasingly diverse community,” Erickson said.
Following President Erickson, awards were presented to both an area elementary and a high school for their excellence in promoting initiatives to honor King and advance diversity initiatives in their schools.
Scholarships were also awarded to two Penn State students recognized for their academic and philanthropic excellence, as well as their previous contributions to the African American community at Penn State, and their plans to better their community in the future.
“I see it, unlike what some might say is a time to reflect, as a time of action,” said John-Paul Milton (sophomore-engineering), the first-place winner of the scholarship. “It’s a time to continue to strive towards the dream…and understand how you can make a difference.”
The Humanitarian Service Award was then awarded to Randall Robinson, who was originally to be the evening’s speaker, but was unable to travel from the island of St. Kitts due to illness. One of Robinson’s colleagues attended the banquet and said Robinson sent his humble gratitude for the recognition.
After a prayer from a local pastor and a dinner for the banquet guests, the evening’s primary speaker was introduced, and the stage was taken by Samuel Thompson, a professor of law and the director of the Center for the Study of Mergers and Acquisitions at Penn State Law.
Thompson delivered an emotional speech, outlining the struggles of blacks in America prior to King’s life. Thompson focused on King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech from the day before he was killed, and a speech King delivered at Penn State in 1965.
Thompson said that while America is not yet the “promised land” King had envisioned, many of the dreams from his most famous speech have been realized: public accommodations and schools have been integrated, blacks have been granted the right to vote, and black Americans now have equal rights under the law.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this Monday marks both 47 years exactly since King spoke at Penn State and the inauguration of America’s first black president for a second term, Thompson pointed out, illustrating the strides that have been made for African Americans since the era of Dr. King.
Listed next by Thompson were four dreams he felt King would believe in, were he still alive today: for us all to reach out to people of other races and religions, for gays to have equal rights under the law, for all students to pursue excellence in both their studies and future careers, and for economic inequality in our nation to be equalized.
These things, Thompson felt, King would seek today as doggedly as he once sought equal rights for African Americans, for, as Thompson said, “his dreams were not black dreams, but dreams for all of us.”