A virtual day of service

The 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change offers safe ways to serve and celebrate.

People march waving signs that say "end segregated rules in public schools" and "we demand voting rights now"
Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy continues to inspire, offering opportunities to reflect and engage.

Penn’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change will be virtual this year, offering activities for adults and children. The events include opportunities for reflection and celebration, learning and discussion, and volunteering and donating. “We have to be ready to pivot because of the evolving nature of the coronavirus, but I think it’s really important that we physically distance and not socially distance,” says Valerie Dorsey Allen, director of the African American Resource Center (AARC), which hosts the symposium. “These activities give people a chance to continue to feel that they’re part of a community, and it allows us to continue to give back to our beloved community and neighbors.”

The Jan. 17 Day of Service begins at 9 a.m. with a virtual kick-off featuring Philadelphia Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and poet Joshua Bennett, a Penn class of 2010 alum who is currently professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College. There will also be a performance by Danse4Nia Conservatory entitled “We Shall Not Be Moved.” 

During the MLK Children’s Art Project at 10:30 a.m., storyteller Irma Gardner Hammond will sing songs and tell stories as children color pages of civil rights leaders. AARC is offering contactless pickup for art supplies on their porch at 3643 Locust Walk from Jan. 12 through Jan. 14, from noon to 2 p.m. 

At noon, the Penn Reads Literacy Project will feature a panel of experts in a discussion on multicultural children’s books and early childhood development. The Literacy Project is working with the Read by 4th program, a citywide early literacy initiative. 

For several years, the Symposium has featured a workshop for high school students and their caregivers called “So You Want to Go to College?” The event is designed to simplify the college admissions and financial aid process, and AARC will offer a virtual workshop this year, says Dorsey Allen. “We wanted the day of service to be more than something that people just did for this day but something that would have a longer-range impact,” she says. 

The City-Wide Donations Project, running from Jan. 17 to 27, includes drop-off sites throughout Philadelphia. Each site is requesting donations specific to their needs, including clothes and toiletries for homeless shelters and coloring books and school supplies for children.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine is again offering its free dog and cat wellness and vaccination clinic. Appointments can be made by calling 215-898-4680 between 8 and 10 a.m., Monday through Friday. AARC will also host a donation box on its porch at 3643 Locust Walk for towels and sheets, which will be used to keep the animals clean and comfortable during their visit. 

The day’s events conclude with a virtual vigil commemorating King and his legacy, hosted by The Mighty Psi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. along with the Gamma Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. “Martin Luther King was an Alpha,” says Dorsey Allen, “so they are always eager to celebrate their fraternity brother and the legacy that he left.” 

The vigil will include a reflection from Charles L. “Chaz” Howard, University chaplain and vice president for social equity and community, a musical performance, a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and a presentation including historic moments during the Civil Rights Movement as well as present-day initiatives supporting equity and social justice, Dorsey Allen says. 

Jonathan Hanson, vice president of the Mighty Psi Chapter, is organizing the event. Hanson, a senior from West Philadelphia majoring in politics, philosophy, and economics, has been working at the AARC since his sophomore year. 

The vigil, he says, is a time “not just to reflect on Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King but also a time for us to come together as a community to remember the good things that people have done in the world that motivate us going forward, serve our community, uplift our people.”

Other virtual events to be offered through Jan. 27 include a financial literacy seminar, a conversation on racism and violence sponsored by the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, and the 2022 Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture in Social Justice on Jan. 25, featuring Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in conversation with PIK Professor Dorothy Roberts. The lecture is sponsored by the Center for Africana Studies and the Annenberg School for Communication.

Several events, including the Interfaith Commemoration and Celebration, as well as Jazz for King, have been postponed until the spring.