Martin Luther King Jr.

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. 

The Martin Luther King Jr. Student Committee has organized various events spanning throughout the week of Jan. 20 with the goal of gathering students to tell their stories and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“We really want to embody the life and legacy of Dr. King,” Nyla Holland, the executive director of the 2019-20 committee, said.

The student committee has selected the theme “The Story of U.S: Exposing the Unarmed Truth” for this year’s events. According to Holland (junior-political science and African American studies), this theme is a continuation of last year's theme “Where Do We Go From Here: A Tradition of Resistance.”

She said “Exposing the Unarmed Truth” begins to answer the question of “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Holland said the theme selection has led to the committee “anchoring the events in truth-telling.”

“This is not a theme that only cares about the past. It is timely for our present and recognizes that our story is not over. We must tell our stories, our truths into 2020 and after. We see all of Penn State in this theme, and we need Penn State to see us,” Holland said in a statement on the committee’s website.

Moreover, Holland said there are five different subcommittees she oversees that have worked to plan the week and each event.

“All of these events are open to everyone. They’re very welcoming,” Holland said. “Also, this theme is universal. Everybody has a story, and everyone can learn something from Martin Luther King.”

The week will open with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 20 in Alumni Hall. The event will operate on a first-come, first-serve basis with check-in running from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., according to the student committee.

In addition to participating in service during the event, Holland said there will also be an educational component which she hopes will “inspire people to continue to do more.”


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Penn State Student Affairs said the National Day of Service is held to answer a quote from King, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?"

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, the MLK Remembrance event will be held at 3:30 p.m. in the State College Municipal Building, followed by a slam poetry contest at 7 p.m at State College High School. The remembrance event will consist of refreshments and speeches, according to Holland.

Symone D. Sanders and Bakari Sellers, CNN political commentators and political activists, will speak at the Evening Celebration Keynote Lecture at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22 in Schwab Auditorium. Holland said they will speak about King and the importance of the 2020 election. The event is free and will also feature a question and answer portion.

The Speak for Peace Oratorical Contest will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23 in Heritage Hall. The event has been organized with Penn State’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which Holland said King is a legacy of. Competitors in the contest will perform speeches for a group of judges in a business casual environment, according to Holland.

Commemoration week will conclude on Friday, Jan. 24 with a keynote speaker from the Sustainability Institute about climate justice and an event with the Restorative Justice Institute discussing the United States’ criminal justice system. “Envisioning Environmental Justice in the Era of Climate Change” will run from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in 233A/B in the HUB. The Restorative Justice Institute’s event will consist of a reentry simulation at various times in Alumni Hall.

Holland said she hopes the events will allow people to share their stories, and include those who are marginalized and often do not have the opportunity to make their story heard.

“We have to get on the same page before we go in any direction, or else wherever we go won’t be united,” Holland said.

More information on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week can be found at mlk.psu.edu.

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