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With several colorful banners depicting the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. hanging in the background, an enthusiastic crowd of community members and students gathered to promote unity yesterday evening.

The crowd gathered in Houston Hall's Bodek Lounge to celebrate King's influence upon all faiths within the Penn community as part of a month-long University celebration of King's legacy.

The event had various speakers -- including Provost Robert Barchi -- as well as music and dance entertainment.

University Chaplain William Gipson gave opening remarks at the event.

Gipson, who helped organize the annual event, said prior to its beginning that he hoped it would provide "a look at the religious dimension of the Civil Rights movement." He stressed that "Dr. King was a preacher and a minister for a prophetic vision of society."

Following Gipson's greeting, Penn's own African Rhythms Drum and Dance Troupe entertained the crowd with a moving performance.

Later in the program, the Chester Children's Chorus sang a medley of several songs.

Cheryl Watson, who had two children in the chorus, expressed her pleasure at the fact that her children were working to realize King's vision.

It is "important for my kids to take part in the dream of different races coming together," she said.

Gipson added that the chorus' performance was especially fitting since King once studied at Chester's Crozer Seminary.

The crowd's energy reached a peak in response to the words and message of keynote speaker Joan Parrot, the vice president of the Children's Defense Fund. Parrot used her strong voice to convey that King needs to be remembered.

"He never forgot who he was, where he came from, and who he belonged to," she said.

Parrott eventually brought the crowd that assembled in Bodek Lounge to its feet as she exclaimed that King "didn't stay in his box" and encouraged the audience to interact with people of other cultures by shouting, "Get out of your box!"

Also speaking at the event was College senior and Hindu Student Council member Amit Vora, who compared the non-violent civil disobedience of King to that of the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi.

"Gandhi was the embodiment of the motivation that influenced Martin Luther King toward his movement," Vora said.

Vora was followed by Engineering sophomore Amin Venjara, who reflected upon "liberty and justice for all from an Islamic perspective."

The evening came to a close with the presentation of several community involvement awards. College senior Heather Lochridge, who was one of five award recipients, felt the award ceremony "added to the atmosphere that was in the spirit of Dr. King" and also said she felt that the entire evening event was "lovely."

Penn Hillel Director Jeremy Brochin ended the evening with his own message.

We need "to recognize that we are brothers and sisters striving to rebuild a shattered world," Brochin said.

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