Martin Luther King Commemoration reflects on past, looks to future

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The 29th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration at Penn State's University Park campus will remember and celebrate the life and work of the civil rights leader with the theme of "Reflect on Yesterday. Experience Today. Transform Tomorrow."

The theme is represented in a design by graphic design student Jake Nicolella. Against a pale blue background, Nicolella illustrates the past, present and future using black and white birds that ultimately transform into myriad colors.

"Reflecting on the theme of this year’s MLK commemoration I chose to show the past, present and future by personifying birds and their link to true freedom," he said in explaining his design. "On the first line we reflect on the unfortunate­ past of segregation. The second line shows the present, where we can experience the mix of cultures that is taking place. On the third line there is a truly transformed tomorrow where we can transcend black and white to live in a world of beautiful colors and boundless self-expression."

Nicolella's design was chosen from entries created by students in professor Lanny Sommese's Graphic Design 400 course. All of the student submissions will be on display in the central lobby of Pattee Library through Feb. 24.

A campus and community committee and student commemoration committee jointly selected this year's theme.

"This year's theme encourages us to take stock of where we've been, how far we've come and the possibilities of where we can go," said Marcus Whitehurst, associate vice provost for Educational Equity and chair of the MLK Commemoration Committee. "It's important for us to recognize how far we've come and honor the work of leaders like Dr. King. But we must also remember that our work is not done, and what we do today can make a positive and lasting impact for the future."  

Monday, Jan. 20, is Martin Luther King Day, and though students have a holiday from classes, many will be committing their day to serving the community during the annual Day of Service from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., beginning in Heritage Hall of the HUB-Robeson Center. Community members can sign up to volunteer at

Also on Monday, an audio broadcast of King's speech at Rec Hall in January 1965 will be played at 10 a.m., and 3 p.m. in Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library.

Author, lecturer and anti-racism educator Tim Wise will speak at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21, in the HUB-Robeson Center's Freeman Auditorium.  The author of six books, Wise speaks around the country on issues of race and has provided anti-racism training to teachers and physicians and corporate, government, military and law enforcement officials.

Following Wise, the Speak for Peace Oratorical Competition and Social Justice Reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Robb Hall of the Hintz Family Alumni Center, featuring student speeches reflecting on King's life and legacy.

Social equality activist and author Angela Davis is the keynote speaker for the Evening Celebration at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22, in Schwab Auditorium.

Through her activism and scholarship over decades, Davis has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world.  Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities and advocated for economic, racial and gender justice.

The author of nine books, Davis has lectured throughout the United States and around the world. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early 1970s when she spent eighteen months in jail and on trial.

Tickets for the Evening Celebration are available in 209 HUB and the Paul Robeson Cultural Center. Tickets also can be reserved online at and picked up at the Schwab box office the night of the event. 

For the full schedule of commemoration events, visit

Whitehurst applauded members of the MLK Commemoration Student Planning Committee, including executive director Lerell Richards, for their work in planning an array of diverse events to honor King's legacy.

"Once again our students have done a terrific job in putting together a program of events to bring together our community for education and service," Whitehurst said. "They have shown creativity and an inspiring commitment to carrying forward Dr. King's messages and values."

For additional information, visit Follow the commemoration on Twitter and Facebook.

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Last Updated January 16, 2014