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MLK vigil Credit: Justin Cohen , Justin Cohen

On Monday night, students from across Philadelphia gathered around the Compass on 37th and Locust streets — holding candles and protecting the flames from the chill — and sang the words to the old hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

That morning the Day of Service, an annual Penn tradition started in 1996 and dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., began at Houston Hall with a speech from Bishop Audrey Bronson.

Volunteers — students, faculty and local community members alike — walked from room to room in the building, attending activities and learning about both service and King.

Bodek Lounge filled with local high-school students and their Penn mentors, decorating cloth bags that would later be filled and given to nursing homes, shelters and other service organizations.

“This is a really good opportunity for the high-school students to see what college looks like, what the campus feels like and talk to students who are going through the college experience,” Suzanne Lyons, the associate director of Upward Bound, commented.

Upward Bound is a mentoring program at Penn, one that has over 92 Upward Bound high-school students already enrolled. The program runs in partnership with the National Association of Black Social Workers, the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association and the Christian Association.

“We would like to ideally have one Penn student for every high-school student,” Lyons explained. “It’s about continuing King’s vision, and we hope that by having these students see other students that are in college now, they can create a vision of themselves going to college,” she said.

In the Class of 1949 auditorium, children and Penn students painted banners, each one containing an image and a motto that represented some of King’s sayings and dreams.

“The banner painting is a great way to honor Dr. King,” Engineering senior Julie Levine, who had come as a part of the Theta Tau engineering fraternity, said. Levine thought, however, that the Day of Service could have benefited from greater awareness on campus.

Further to the back of the auditorium, a group of students decorated the “Seat of Justice,” a physical chair in memory of the work and words of King.

“This event — [painting the ‘Seat of Justice’] — has been going on for a couple of years and helps to make King’s words available and meaningful to all generations,” 2004 Wharton graduate Rodney Smith explained. “King’s dream doesn’t continue unless we hold on to his words and his story.”

Danielle Heitmann, the program manager of the Christian Association at Penn, explained how the Day of Service holds a different meaning to every person. “The kids are able to see that there is something different and special going on and that it relates back to MLK,” she said, “and the college students are able to give back to the community and honor Dr. King’s idea of service.”

College senior and Alpha Kappa Alpha member Kristen Jackson viewed the day’s events as a reminder that people can be “civic-minded at every age.”

At the evening candlelight vigil, which was co-hosted by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Chaplain Charles L. Howard concluded day’s events in a speech that urged students to make a difference in their communities.

He described King taking classes at Fisher-Bennett Hall on 34th and Walnut streets as a young man, connecting his life to Penn.

The day’s events are a part of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change that runs from Jan. 13 to Feb. 2.

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