Community gathers to honor legacy, philosophy, vision of Martin Luther King Jr.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A capacity crowd of more than 700 people celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy at the 43rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet on Jan. 15, sponsored by the Penn State Forum on Black Affairs (FOBA), at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

The theme of the event was “The Mountain Top Has Not Been Reached,” a reference to “I've Been to the Mountaintop,” King’s last public address in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968.

Banquet attendees spent the evening honoring King, reflecting on his teachings and discussing ways to forward his vision; and recognizing members of the community who exemplify his teachings and philosophies.

Speakers included Penn State President Eric Barron, who in his remarks spoke of the current national climate, the struggle to effect real and lasting change, and the efforts of the “All In” initiative as a call to action. “Perhaps more than anything we wanted specific ideas on how we could move from a focus on diversity to one of inclusion,” said Barron of these efforts. “We all know that the difference between our reality and our aspirations requires action.”

The full text of Barron’s remarks can be found on his blog.

“We need to be the place where we play all or we play none; we need to be the place where your first reaction to someone who is different than you is to say they must be of value because I know they earned the right to be here. We need to be the place where tangible ideas can be put into action,” said Barron.

“I can say it plainly — if we can’t make progress in this community, for which so many abhor injustice, how can we hope to be successful nationally acting in the face of growing conflict, great ignorance, and increasingly dangerous hatred in society at large,” said Barron. “We cannot afford to fail.”

Also in attendance was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who talked about the importance of the “tremendous diversity of communities, and the diversity of ideas” to an equitable and fair country. “Dr. King’s example is more important now, right now, than it ever has been throughout our history,” he said. “We are all called upon to give life to the American values all of us must hold dear.”

Carlos Wiley, current president of FOBA and director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, offered reflections on the themes of the banquet and of the University-wide, weeklong MLK celebration, “Deconstructing the Dream: At Whose Expense?”

“We, as people, black, white, Asian, Latino, Latinx — We — need to come together, speak up for one another, stand up for those who don’t look like us, maybe even for those who don’t share our same thoughts, our same principles, and our same values. Because those are the people — we are the people — that will make that change. We are the people that will help get to the Promised Land. There’s no other way to look at it. We are in a time of urgency, fierce urgency,” said Wiley.

In addition, Leslie Laing, past president of FOBA and director of adult learner programs and services, spoke about the new Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown State College, installed this past summer on the former Frasier Street plaza site.

Several awards were presented to honor those in the community who exemplify King’s teachings:

— The Humanitarian Award, presented to Barbara and Edgar Farmer.

Barbara Farmer served as the former director of multicultural affairs in the College of Information Sciences and Technology and is retired principal of Houserville/Lemont Elementary Schools in the State College Area School District (SCASD). She has served on the boards of the Women’s Resource Center and Centre County United Way, and most recently as chairwoman of the MLK Plaza committee. Edgar Farmer is professor of education and past head of the Department of Learning and Performance Systems in the College of Education. He is a former site director for the National Research Dissemination Centers on Career and Technical Education. The couple served on Penn State’s “Policing People of Color Task Force” in 2017, and currently are members of Community and Campus in Unity, which addresses issues of diversity in the Borough of State College.

— The State College Area School District Awards, presented to Park Forest Elementary School and the Delta Program.

— The Fannie Lou Hamer & W.E.B. Du Bois Scholarship Awards, presented to Penn State students Symone A. McCollum, education and public policy, University Park; and Nicole Telfer, human development and family studies, life span developmental science option, and minor in psychology, University Park.

The audience also enjoyed performances by the Essence of Joy choir, directed by Anthony Leach, professor of music and music education; Roots of Life, an ensemble based out of SCASD and directed by Kikora Franklin, associate professor of theatre/dance; and singer Maria Wirries with dancers Jimmy Bonilla and Erica Densmore, who presented "Black Butterfly."

In addition, students from Penn State’s School of Theatre performed “A View from the Mountaintop,” under the direction of Associate Professor Kikora Franklin. The presentation featured an excerpt from Katori Hall’s play “The Mountaintop” and visuals by English major Davon Clark.

The MLK Banquet Committee includes Wiley, chair; Laing, banquet coordinator; Andre Culbreath; Curt Marshall; Aissatou Nabe; Stephanie Preston; Camille Selden; and Letitia Tajuba.

To learn more about the Forum on Black Affairs, visit https://www.fobapsu.org/.

Last Updated January 16, 2018