Praise the Lord and the folks

For all his earthly and heavenly connections, the Rev. William H. Gray III, former U.S. congressman from Philadelphia and now president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, was stuck in the air. His transportation connections failed him on the evening of the region’s first snowfall.

But the Jan. 20 snow did not halt the event at which Gray was to speak, and it did not halt the 100 people who came to hear him at the Harold Prince Theatre in the Annenberg Center. The event, the Interfaith Commemoration of the Life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., honored King’s belief in the value of community service and interfaith cooperation.

The interfaith theme focused on the Christian and the Jewish —music from the New Spirit of Penn gospel choir and from R’nanah, the Jewish music a cappella group; and remarks from the Rev. William C. Gipson, chaplain of the University, and from Hillel Director Jeremy Brochin.

Gipson expressed hope that Gray would arrive to speak. “Our guest speaker is a determined man,” Gipson said.

R’nanah sang psalms in Hebrew. The New Spirit of Penn sang gospel songs, including a rousing “He’s a Keep-a,” —pronunciation stressed by choir conduct-a Ashon Crawley (EAS’02).

Brochin spoke of the importance of spirituality. And President Judith Rodin said that it isn’t enough to merely educate students “if we fail to rouse their souls to serve others.”

Honoring those who served was what happened next. Ira Harkavy, director of the Center for Community Partnerships, was recognized for getting students and area resources to contribute to the new community school. Charles “Chaz” Howard (C’00) was honored for bridging the gap between diverse student groups and reaching out to the community. Sgt. John Wylie was honored for his work with the Police Athletic League and the African American police officers’ group. And two community activists — Brenda Cooper-Cutts, a tireless advocate for the homeless, and K. Rose Samuel-Evans, a conflict-resolution advocate — were honored.

In related news, a proposal from Rodin to make King’s birthday a University holiday will be presented to the Faculty University Planning committee. The proposal would have to comply with the bylaws of the University, and meet with the approval of the Trustees.


Originally published on February 3, 2000