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Students and community members gather for a candlelight vigil on the compass. See the full gallery here.

Credit: Lulu Wang

Members of the Penn community and West Philadelphians used their day off to honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy by participating in a joint Day of Service.

The day's executive planning committee organized numerous free events for the annual MLK Commemorative Symposium on Social Change coordinated by the African-American Resource Center beginning on Jan. 15, with the Day of Service, and ending Jan. 31. 

The University hosted its first official Day of Service in 1996, incorporating programming that had already been coordinated by the African-American Resource Center. Former Penn President Judith Rodin declared MLK day an official closing holiday for the University in 2001.

The committee, which includes various members of the Penn community, aims to uphold MLK's legacy by fostering inclusivity and discussions of public education. 

“I think Martin Luther King’s legacy is about really looking at structures of oppression and how we can dismantle that by collectively working together,” Haley Pilgrim, co-president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and third-year Ph.D. student in Sociology, said.

Credit: Lulu Wang

This year's Day of Service began with a free breakfast featuring a speech from Pennsylvania state Rep. Christopher Rabb (D-Pa.), who received his master's degree from Penn in 2006. 

Attendees were invited to participate in events throughout the rest of the day including "A Pocketful of Toiletries" where volunteers made bags from t-shirts and filled them with socks, gloves, and toiletries for women at local shelters. 

Organizers stressed the importance of improving public education in the West Philadelphia area.

“It really should not matter what your family means are or what you were born into, but that a good education should always be accessible,” Director of Financial Aid for the School of Social Policy & Practice Karima Williams said.

At “Penn Reads,” volunteers recorded themselves reading children's books to promote literacy in the community. 

Marguerite Miller, a public relations co-chair for the symposium and editor of the Almanac, said participants recorded more than 100 books. She added that other members of the symposium committee would send the books and their recordings to local public elementary schools and day care centers.  

“Finding Your Path to STEM” targeted public high school students. A panel of eight professionals answered questions for students about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. 

The students were given a free lunch and were invited to attend a college fair to speak with faculty and administrators from Penn, Drexel University, and the University of the Sciences.  

“The idea is to expose [students] to all of these different options to see if it resonates with them,” David Mazor, organizer of the event and third-year Penn Dental student, said.

He noted that as an undergraduate at Princeton University, he majored in Near Eastern Studies and did not decide he wanted to become a dentist until after he graduated.

Credit: Lulu Wang

A candlelight vigil was held at the compass, organized by the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Other symposium events include "Jazz for King," a night of jazz and poetry on Jan. 26, and its hallmark event, "What Can Colleges & Universities do for Education in Philadelphia," on Jan. 24. 

The event will open with remarks from Penn President Amy Gutmann and the President of the Community College of Philadelphia Donald Generals will moderate a panel discussion and brainstorming session involving local university leaders such as the Graduate School of Education Dean Pam Grossman, Temple University College of Education Dean Gregory Anderson, and Aimee LaPointe Terosky, a professor of educational leadership at Saint Joseph's University. 

“In Philadelphia and other major cities in the U.S., public education is dismal,” Associate Director of the African-American Resource Center Robert Carter said. “We as human beings still have a lot of work to do to make our world a better place.”