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In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity organized a candlelight vigil at the Compass on MLK Day in 2018. This year, the vigil will be held in Irvine Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16. Credit: Lulu Wang

The African American Resource Center is hosting the 28th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change.

The symposium — which begins on MLK Day of Service on Jan. 16 and continues until Feb. 3 — features events across Penn’s campus and Philadelphia. The symposium returns in person this year after a hiatus due to COVID-19. 

The symposium will begin with the MLK Day of Service kickoff breakfast at Houston Hall, with Penn President Liz Magill, Executive Director of National Black Justice Coalition David Johns, and State Senator Vincent J. Hughes expected to speak.

In addition to the kickoff event, the Day of Service includes a free dog and cat wellness vaccination clinic hosted by the School of Veterinary Medicine, various community wellness events co-sponsored by the Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center, a beautification project at Henry C. Lea Elementary School, and a candlelight vigil.

Other events will continue throughout the month of January, including a lecture sponsored by the African Studies department featuring 1619 Project author Nikole-Hannah Jones and a performance by Jazz for King at World Café Live.

"One of the driving forces that we try to include is aspects of King's life that we find that can connect different events that we're putting together," Darin Toliver, associate director of the AARC and executive co-chair of the symposium, said.

The AARC is awarding the 27th Annual Community Involvement Recognition Awards this year. The recipients of the award were nominated in the fall by members of the Penn and Philadelphia community.

This year’s award winners include Penn professor Herman Beavers with the Community Education Award in Honor of Dr. Judith Rodin, Joe E. Nock and Melany Nelson with the Community Awards, Director of University-Assisted Community Schools Sports, Fitness, and Health Paulette Branson with the Staff Award, Perelman Doctorate student Jasmine Brown with the Graduate Student Award, and College junior Mya Gordon with the Undergraduate Student Award.

“We've had some very impressive nominations for the award each and every year,” Toliver said. “The students who have been awarded have been involved in grassroots efforts to make change.”

In line with the Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service, the AARC planned its first Annual Day of Service events in 1996. Former Penn President Judith Rodin established MLK Day as an official University holiday in 2001, according to the AARC.

Wharton sophomore and AARC intern Jonathan Lamothe said that the symposium hopes to engage members affiliated with Penn and the broader Philadelphia community.

“The MLK Symposium isn’t really just for the Penn community,” Lamothe said. “It’s really for the entire community of Philadelphia.”

Toliver explained that the diversity of the events offered and the reach across Penn’s campus and the Philadelphia community reflect Dr. King’s values.

“Dr. King had an intersection with all of these different events in some way,” Toliver said. “We want to continue to keep pushing his vision of a peaceful and harmonious society moving forward.”