At the start of Black History Month, the University of Pennsylvania continued the tradition of honoring and celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the 11th year during its Commemorative Symposium on Social Change.
“We share Dr. King’s belief that people everywhere should have enough food for their bodies, access to education and culture for their minds, and equal freedom and dignity for their spirits,” said Amy Gutmann, eighth president of the University of Pennsylvania.
Coordinated by the African-American Resource Center, this year’s symposium covered an array of topics including Hispanic identity and culture, interfaith programs, international struggles in Somalia and the Sudan, fitness exercises, veteran homelessness and intergenerational reflections.
“One of our events wrapping up the symposium was unbelievably inspirational,” said Robert Carter, the associate director of the AARC and event organizer. The “Brothers Keep Dreaming…and Fighting: Intergenerational Reflections on the Man King and the Civil Rights Legacy” event was a two-part activity consisting of a cohort of students and the University of Pennsylvania’s LIFE Center elders.
“Just to watch the interaction between them was great,” he added. “The young people’s eyes lit up when they talked to the elders.”
The elders have witnessed racial injustice and violence firsthand, and they were genuinely honored to share their stories with the next generation.
“Many shared the hope that the students will take steps toward progress and advancing their own lives as well as the lives of those in their community,” Carter said. “It was heartwarming.”
Overbrook Park resident and University of Pennsylvania alumna Rorujorona Ferrell has always enjoyed the Jazz for King event.
“It engages many of the individual senses and many of the Symposium’s themes,” she said. “I aim to attend as many events in the MLK Symposium as I can, not for the number of them but for the content. As a music lover, this one is a must. It’s also a good time to reconnect with my Penn family.”
This year, Ferrell attended several events including the day of service, the musical tribute and the MLK Symposium Signature event.
“As a social worker, the day of service is important to me because it reminds me to do a heart check — that being a social worker isn’t just about my profession but it’s also about my heart,” she said.
Caring for others and our communities is important and necessary to Ferrell.
“I attended the Signature event because people shared with me about it so passionately, and the theme was so intriguing, that I had to check it out,” she said.
A Michigan native, Ferrell credits organizations such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers and AARC for providing much needed support and ultimately giving her the village she need to advance with her graduate studies.
“As a female student of color, I had to become a lot more proactive, but also a lot more considerate, with how I applied my Midwest ideologies,” she said.