Liberal Arts student leads commemoration committee honoring MLK

Connor Pardoe
January 22, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Entering its 34th year, the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration student planning committee has been hard at work gearing up for a week full of events. Awaly Diallo, a junior and Paterno Fellow majoring in sociology and African American studies, serves as the executive director of the committee and hopes to inspire social justice across Penn State's University Park campus.

“Our goal, as a committee, is to bring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy to the forefront of people’s minds by taking him off a pedestal and show him as an evolving and growing person,” said Diallo. “Dr. King grew over time, changed his opinion about varying things, and truly redefined many aspects of social justice for the United States.”

Diallo’s experiences at Penn State ring true to the goal of the committee. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she is a first-generation college student and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. As a Schreyer Honors Scholar, she researches the history of racial violence and the connection it has with police brutality in present times, specifically in Baltimore over the past few years.

“With everything that I do in my life, I am surrounded by encouraging and empowering black women and girls,” said Diallo. “From my family, to my sorority sisters, to my professors, to the planning committee, I am surrounded by caring, encouraging and empowering black women.”

Diallo’s observant nature as a first-year student while serving as a team leader for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service helped her realize how special the committee was because of the social justice aspects intertwined within the service initiatives. She yearned to bring something more to the committee and questioned how social justice could play a role.

“I saw so much more for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee and knew of the potential this group was equipped with,” said Diallo. “I wanted Penn State students and community members to realize that it is more than just a dream and more than just a week, but rather, a lifestyle that we could choose to honor by commemorating MLK’s legacy.”

In figuring out how to bring something more to the week of events the committee undertakes, Diallo utilized her African American studies education in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State.

“As an African American studies student, I can understand historical perspectives while digging deeper to contextualize racial and social justice happenings,” Diallo said. “This is how we helped define our theme for the week, 'Where Do We Go from Here: A Tradition of Resistance.'”

Awaly Diallo

Paterno Fellow Awaly Diallo serves as the executive director of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee and hopes to inspire social justice across the University Park campus.

IMAGE: Photo provided

As a young scholar herself, Diallo credits the mentorship of two professors with helping to define her path as a social justice advocate, while providing unequivocal support to her hopes and dreams.

“Dr. Cynthia Young, who serves as the department head for African American studies, is a blessing,” said Diallo. “She sought me out as a freshman, and her tutelage in activism has backed up my experience in the executive director position. Additionally, Dr. Errol Henderson, associate professor of political science, has truly shaped my understanding of what a student activist should be, and he has been an integral piece in supporting black students on campus.”

The 34th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration has events scheduled for Monday, Jan. 21, through Friday, Jan. 25. The week incorporates the State College community, including the “More Than a Dream” event in State College Area School District, while also providing opportunities for Penn State students to serve their community, emulating MLK’s mission.

The week will be capped off with the Evening Celebration in Schwab Auditorium starting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25. This culminating event will celebrate the life and legacy of King through various performances and keynote speakers covering the topic of student activism. The keynote speakers for this year’s event are Angela Rye and Marc Lamont Hill. This is a free event funded by the Student Initiated Fee. Priority entrance will be given to students with a valid Penn State University Park photo ID. Community members are welcome to attend and will be seated based on availability.

“No matter what I do, whether it is serving as the executive director of the student commemoration committee, writing my honors thesis, or pursuing an internship, my goal is to bring a platform to the trauma that black women go through inside the classroom, prison system, and within their own families,” said Diallo. “My liberal arts education and the mentorship I have received from many individuals has enabled me to pursue my dreams, just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did.”

To learn more information about the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee and the schedule of the University-wide events it sponsors, visit: https://studentaffairs.psu.edu/involvement-student-life/get-involved/martin-luther-king-jr-commemoration.

  • A Tradition of Resistance poster for MLK commemoration week 2019

    “As an African American studies student, I can understand historical perspectives while digging deeper to contextualize racial and social justice happenings,” said Awaly Diallo said, executive director of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration student planning committee. “This is how we helped define our theme for the week, 'Where Do We Go from Here: A Tradition of Resistance.'”

    IMAGE: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 22, 2019