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Student engaged in a prayer to commemorate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Members of the Penn and Philadelphia communities gathered on campus Monday for a Day of Service to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The day's executive planning committee hosted a series of events both on and off campus for the annual MLK Commemorative Symposium on Social Change, which was organized by the African-American Resource Center and will continue until Feb. 1.

The program started with a Day of Service Breakfast featuring a guest lecture from Uva Coles, associate vice president for civic and global engagement at Widener University. After the breakfast, Houston Hall remained the base for many of the day’s projects. Activities included creating bags of toiletries for women in local shelters and working with Helping Hands to create gifts for West Philadelphia residents.

Penn President Amy Gutmann also stopped by different events shortly before noon as many tables in Houston Hall saw growing lines of eager participants.

"I’m so proud of the Penn community for engaging the youngest children from our community to citizens who have been here for generations,” Gutmann said. “We’re all together today, which is really important. And the message we’re sending couldn’t be more important or more timely.”

Across campus in Van Pelt Library, attendees created audiobooks of multicultural children's books as part of the Penn Reads Literacy Project. Both the audio recordings and physical copies will be donated to Philadelphia youth.

The Day of Service also included a panel of graduate students who spoke to local high schoolers about careers in STEM fields. Day of Service committee member and fourth year Penn Dental student David Mazor created the panel last year.

“A lot of times these careers are very rigid and you kind of have to know even before you are in college which track you want to do and which courses to take,” Mazor said. He added that the panel was meant to emphasize King's core principle of using education as a means of self-improvement.

Daniel Song, a second-year exchange student from the University of Melbourne, said he first heard about Martin Luther King Jr. Day when it was discussed during his orientation. Song said he saw the day as a chance to contribute something meaningful while experiencing a celebration unique to the United States.

“It was a good chance to experience what it’s like living in America,” he said.

Some service-oriented student groups also took part in the Day of Service. CityStep, a group that mentors local Philadelphia youth through arts education, helped with a community beautification project at the Laura Sims Skate House, where they cleaned floors and bathrooms.

“I think it’s nice to maintain relationships with West and South Philly schools, especially since we go into a lot of them," CityStep member and College junior Grace Wu said.

The day concluded with a candlelit vigil featuring songs and quotes from King as students and faculty marched from Du Bois College House to College Green. 

Reverend Charles Howard said he hoped students would come away from the day recognizing the importance of both doing service and working for justice, adding that the current political backdrop sheds a new light on MLK Day.

“Service is important and beautiful, but it’s not enough," Howard said. "We really have to work to reconstruct society in a lot of ways."

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