Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change

Each year, during the month of January, the University of Pennsylvania and our surrounding communities come together to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The commemoration reminds us of our interdependence and reaffirms our commitment to the betterment of our communities through civility and service.

Opening our doors to embrace programming and visitors dedicated to realizing Dr. King's vision transforms the campus. Sharing our strengths and diversity as we commemorate Dr. King has an impact on the University that continues to be felt across campus and the Philadelphia community.

A Message from the Chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Executive Planning Committee:

I recently witnessed Wynton Marsalis receiving the Marion Anderson Award here in Philadelphia. Mr. Marsalis is more than a musician. He gave a profound speech at this gala event. During his speech Mr. Marsalis stated, “Though some love to worship the ever-glorious past, we are burdened with a painful history chained to the dark star of slavery. Yes, it is the blood-soaked parts of our nation’s roots that cost us the virginity of our idealism.” Hearing the above words, I thought about how often Americans speak about freedom and liberty but never mentioning our nation’s 300 plus year history of human enslavement. Mr. Marsalis also mentioned that all human beings are born midstream meaning that there have been many born before us and hopefully many to come after we are gone. And those of us, who imagine our life’s work to have meaning in the future, should be making contributions with future generations in the forefront of our minds. In my opinion the take home point of the evening, Wynton Marsalis stated, “excellence is our protest.” My interpretation of this particular quote taking into account the context in which it was made those who have been portrayed as being less than because of their skin color must strive for excellence. Dr. King also spoke of the importance of reaching for excellence by members within all walks of life. By reading Dr. King’s speeches and books over the years, I have come to appreciate Dr. King’s deep desire for wanting our future relationships to be “righteous, just, and a beloved community to become a reality.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is greeted at the University Museum on "Law Day USA", May 1, 1965. (Photo by Bernato, courtesy the University Archives)

As a part time lecturer in the School of Social Policy and Practice I have been reading racial scholars, activists, and many community members, words regarding what I would call needless and racist-centered deaths. Unfortunate but many also realize that these were only two recent examples of the stark racial injustices that have plagued our country’s history. In both cases, the White police officers instrumental in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were neither charged with any crime, nor taken to trial. As the year unfolded national and international media attention on the cases grew. However, these two cases were by no means isolated incidents. Moreover, despite the media’s disproportionate focus on cases like these involving Black males’ intersectional analyses demonstrate that racialized police violence and misconduct are inflicted upon women and transgendered persons of color as well.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1966

This past year one of our Civil Rights giants Julian Bond became an ancestor. I was fortunate to hear Mr. Bond speak once where he stated, “For most of my adult life, I have been engaged in what once was called "race work" - fighting to make justice and fairness a reality for everyone…. The racial picture in America has improved remarkably in my lifetime, so much so that a black man has been elected and re-elected President of the United States, an unthinkable development just a few years ago….Those who say that 'race is history' have it exactly backward - history is race. The word 'America' scrambled, after all, spells 'I am race.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. with his daughter Yolanda King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with his daughter Yolanda King. (Photo by James Karales)


It is not enough to know that two and two makes four, but we've got to know somehow that it's right to be honest and just with our brothers. It's not enough to know all about our philosophical and mathematical disciplines, but we've got to know the simple disciplines of being honest and loving and just with all humanity. If we don't learn it, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own powers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Address at the Fiftieth Anual NAACP Convention, 17 July 1959, New York.

I witnessed Mr. Bond speaking with some Penn students on an alternative Spring Break trip a few years ago. Mr. Bond, his friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Marion Anderson award winner Wynton Marsalis speak so eloquently about race, history and racism. Nick Penzenstadler of USA Today News reported that Black Friday sales this year broke records with 185,000 gun background checks.

“The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."). Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967.

Wynton Marsalis is more than a jazz trumpet player and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often called a drum major for peace connect us to meaningful ideals. Some of Dr. King’s ideals well be highlighted within The University of Pennsylvania’s 21st Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change which begins on Monday, January 18, 2016. The centerpiece of our Symposium the Day of Volunteer Service activities is designed to enhance our desire and offer opportunities for community service.

It's all right to lie, but lie with dignity. It's all right to steal and to rob and extort, but do it with a bit of finesse. It's even all right to hate, but just dress your hate up in the garments of love and make it appear that you are loving when you are actually hating. Just get by! That's the thing that's right according to this new ethic. My friends, that attitude is destroying the soul of our culture. It's destroying our nation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rediscovering Lost Values, Sermon delivered at Detroit's Second Baptist Church (28 February 1954).

The Day of Service will begin with a breakfast for volunteers at 8:30 a.m. in Houston Hall’s “Hall of Flags.” Houston Hall volunteer activities include: children’s banner painting, books on tape, sock stuffing. There will be a College Application Process Workshop for high school juniors. Volunteers may also be involved with a variety of community service projects in the West Philadelphia area until 2:00 p.m. The 2016 MLK Symposium’s continues with programs for most of January on Wednesday, the 20th the MLK Interfaith and Awards Commemoration will feature guest speaker Shane Claiborne, author, peacemaking activist and a founder of The Simple Way. This program will also include poetry, musical performances from the Penn community and the MLK community awards will be presented with a reception to following. The program begins at 6 p.m. in Bodek Lounge, Houston Hall. On Thursday, January 21st Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, (two of the three) founders of the Black Lives Matter movement will be in conversation with Dr. Camille Charles within the MLK Lecture in Social Justice at 5:30 PM at Penn’s Zellerbach Theatre Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Other highlighted programs include Performance Art for Social Change featuring Penn’s Brother Robb Carter ensemble The Unity on Friday, January 22 at the Rotunda 4014 Walnut St. and Jazz for King held on January 29th.

All Symposium programs are free and open to the public, unless otherwise indicated. They include workshops, discussions, panels, lectures, performances, special presentations, award ceremonies, interfaith programs and documentary film screenings.

Respectfully Submitted,
Robert Carter
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium Executive Committee Co-Chair