45th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet draws appreciative crowd

January 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 1,000 people gathered together in the Bryce Jordan Center on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Jan. 15, to honor the civil-rights leader’s legacy at the 45th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet, presented by Penn State's Forum on Black Affairs (FOBA).

The theme for this year's banquet, "The Story of U.S.: Exposing the Unarmed Truth,” is also the theme of this year’s MLK Jr. Commemoration Week activities, to be held Jan. 20-25. The theme was chosen by the 2020 MLK Jr. Commemoration Student Committee.

“We choose to tell 'The Story of U.S.,' to be unyielding about the history of these United States and all who were involved in them, not just those who write our history books,” said Haniel Tracey on behalf of the student commemoration committee. “This theme encompasses every student at Penn State, every person in this country and world. We invite this community to not only confront the injustices of this country, but to get to know who they are and what story they have to tell.”

In her remarks, FOBA President Stephanie Danette Preston, associate dean for Graduate Educational Equity and chief diversity officer for Graduate Education, encouraged those who are in the fight for injustice to continue moving forward, and those who have not realized their purpose, to get engaged.

“Someone near and dear to my heart always tells me, ‘You don’t take all day to do nothing, but it might take some time to do something.’ In that phrase, there’s a whole lot. Nothing, requires nothing. But, it might take some time to do something," said Preston. "I focused on this as I reflect on what I have done to further our cause, any cause. We fall short sometimes, all of us, but I’m encouraged by my peers, and the students, to wake up. Our society is ever-changing, and we as a collective have the power and social capital to be impactful in our everyday lives, and in the lives of others.

“In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘whatever affects one, directly, affects all, indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be, until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.' Until we realize the power of our purpose, it will take all day to do something," said Preston. "Be empowered, speak your truth. Be unapologetic about speaking up and out for right. We’ve got to work together despite our differences if we’re ever going to see progress, if we’re ever going to truly be free.”

Chadijah Craig plays the euphonium

Chadijah Craig, graduate student in music at Penn State, played the euphonium in a performance during the 45th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet, held at the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 15, 2020.

IMAGE: Laura Waldhier

During the banquet, Suzanne Adair, associate vice president for affirmative action, presented Michael A. Phillips, director of Penn State Admissions in Pittsburgh, with the 2020 FOBA Humanitarian Award. FOBA created this award in 1985 to annually honor an individual who has provided outstanding service to African-American citizens of Pennsylvania, particularly at any Penn State campus.

Two students received the Fannie Lou Hamer and W.E.B. DuBois Service Scholarships at the banquet: Lobna Ahmed, majoring in management information systems and minoring in security and risk analysis with an option in cybersecurity, in the Smeal College of Business; and Ananda Rankin, majoring in microbiology and French and minoring in Francophone studies. The scholarships, awarded annually to full-time, degree-seeking Penn State students who are excellent scholars and actively engaged in service to the African-American community, honor the memory of civil-rights leaders Fannie Lou Hamer and W.E.B. DuBois.

The audience also enjoyed a performance by Chadijah Craig, graduate student in music, on euphonium; a piano solo by Alina Wong, assistant vice provost for Educational Equity; the singing of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” led by Victoria Dorsett, a sophomore majoring in energy, business and finance; and a dance presented by the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

In his remarks, Penn State President Eric Barron talked about King as a leader and how his work was marked by compassion and empathy for others.

“A common attribute among great leaders is not their personalities, far from it. A common attribute is empathy — leadership defined by an awareness, an understanding of the plight of others — and a level of compassion that compels one to take action to help their fellow humans in untenable or less fortunate circumstances,” said Barron. “Dr. King persisted, because, as he said, ‘there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.’

“May the actions and voices of our students, and the many who support them, ensure that we confront the future with compassion,” said Barron, “and through their efforts may we find the true leadership we need.”

Gary Thomas and Victoria Dorsett

Victoria Dorsett, a Penn State sophomore majoring in energy, business and finance, left, led the audience in the singing of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," accompanied by Penn State American Sign Language Staff Interpreter Gary Thomas.

IMAGE: Laura Waldhier

Penn State American Sign Language Staff Interpreter Gary Thomas accompanied the speakers and performers for the evening’s event.

WPSU Penn State will air the banquet at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16.

The 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet Committee includes Samia Cooperider, André Culbreath, Tierra Dinkins, Nyla Holland, Andrew Jackson Sr., Harlena L. Munnings, Stephanie Danette Preston, and Banquet Chairperson Carlos Wiley.

The mission of the Forum on Black Affairs is to provide educational opportunities for all citizens and is dedicated to the principle of equality for all people, manifested in a commitment to achieve equal opportunity for black people at Penn State. FOBA seeks to form meaningful partnerships with individuals and other organizations, and encourages participation in a shared vision of an improved diverse and inclusive University community. Visit https://www.fobapsu.org/ to learn more.

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Last Updated January 17, 2020