MLK Legacy Search Rec Hall

One of the seven tasks was to find Recreation Hall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there on Jan. 21, 1964. Years later this search took place on Jan. 22, 2022 in University Park, Pa.

Before Jan. 15, 1929, every third Monday of January was a typical day — one where Penn State students would keep up with their normal routines.

Though Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a federal holiday in the ‘80s, it was not until 2000 that South Carolina became the last state to observe the day commemorating King’s birth.

As one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement and a figure of inspiration for African Americans in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. orchestrated historical change using nonviolence.

Every Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Penn State community should focus on celebrating his birthday and legacy — a day off of work and classes isn’t enough.

King preached the message to “accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope,” and in front of a crowd of over 8,000 people at Rec Hall, he voiced principles he believed had the power to change the world.

“We have come a long, long way in the struggle for racial justice, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved,” King said in his speech on Penn State’s University Park campus.

Every word echoed at Rec Hall on Jan. 21, 1965 became part of King’s legacy – one Penn State has had the privilege to share.

It’s disappointing how many students tend to use this federal holiday as an excuse to extend their weekend instead of honoring its significance. To prevent this, Penn State needs to focus on better educating students from all backgrounds about King’s legacy for years to come.

With events like the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet, An Evening of Prose, Poetry and Performance Tribute and the March for PEACE, Penn State has created various creative and artistic initiatives to honor King’s legacy.

But what are celebrations without a plethora of attendees?

With a population of roughly 46,000 undergraduate students at University Park, the need for promoting these meaningful events and increasing attendance among students should be paramount.

Penn State has a community that manages to unite large crowds in celebration of its athletic teams, yet it struggles to unite its students in the same capacity to honor King’s legacy.

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the future, the university could collaborate with Penn State Athletics to reach a wider variety of students. From giving players special shirts to wear in remembrance of King to using the jumbotron during timeouts, sports can be an effective way for the university to call attention to events surrounding the holiday.

Similar to how King once said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now,” as a community of diverse cultures and backgrounds, uniting for one day to honor King needs to be effective at Penn State — even though it’s a short amount of time.

The responsibility also lies within professors and faculty members to voice the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For instance, they could use a small portion of their class closest to the holiday to encourage conversation about its significance.

Equity, diversity and inclusion can be achieved by communication – a tool King used well throughout the civil rights movement.

With the largest living college alumni network in the world, a tight-knit community is already available, and Penn State should use its resources and power to encourage more local recognition surrounding the holiday.

Groups on campus dedicated to promoting inclusion and unity like the Student Black Caucus at Penn State, Black Student Union and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Commemoration Committee should not be leading the charge alone. For example, there could be university-wide committees implemented to increase the marketing and promotion of events moving forward.

With over 230,000 followers on Instagram, Penn State’s online presence is undeniable and influential enough to enhance the promotion of events organized to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day as well. Even though there were posts made, there’s always more that could be done.

Penn State should use Rec Hall as its main stage for celebratory events, as it's a small yet meaningful part of King’s journey. Thousands of students should feel encouraged to gather together to celebrate King — just as they once did when he spoke on campus.

Without enough alumni engagement or aggressive encouragement from Penn State, students will continue to be left out of the celebration. And as a predominantly white institution, Penn State needs to try harder.

The university is not lacking in events, activities or talent for proper recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day — it’s lacking in finding effective ways to promote them.

More importantly, the university must prioritize making its students know the day is more than just another federal holiday; it must encourage Penn State students to commemorate King — as a civil rights hero.

The power college students have once they’re united is a force King knew about, and it should be at the forefront of planning and promoting events at Penn State to commemorate his legacy.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Fernanda López can be reached at lfl5339@psu.edu.

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