Penn State’s weeklong Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration kicks off with memorial banquet

Kikora Franklin’s group of performers spread a message both realistically and visually that honored Martin Luther King Jr. on Wednesday night during the annual memorial banquet at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

Franklin, associate professor of theatre and dance, brought three groups of performers together to spread a message that King once urged — to bring people together.

“It’s a symbolic representation of Dr. King’s dream,” Franklin said. “We’re bridging that gap between the university and the community. It’s diversity and collaboration on all levels.”

The three groups included Roots of Life, a performance group made up of students from the State College Area School District; Afi-Mojah Dance Company, a group of performers from Penn State; and first- and third-year acting students who performed a piece from Dominique Morisseau’s “ Blood at the Root.”

Each group collaborated in a monologue, music and dance number.

Wednesday night’s banquet, hosted by the Forum on Black Affairs, was the official kickoff to a weeklong celebration in honor of King, said chairwoman Leslie Laing. And it came on the day of his birthday.

“We’re honoring his legacy, leadership and life’s work in hopes of inspiring people to pursue justice, peace and equality,” Laing said.

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. week of commemoration was started 29 years ago with just 30 guests. This year, Liang said, 714 attended the banquet — the largest so far. Throughout the week, more events are scheduled to honor the civil rights icon.

But guests and leaders who attended the banquet said King’s dream has not yet been fulfilled.

“His dream is not done,” said Suzanne Adair, assistant dean of Penn State’s graduate school. “Think of what more we can do in terms of civility, equality and equity, and how everyone can contribute to that piece of the puzzle.”

Adair added that a key member of the community who would have been actively involved in helping King’s dream along would have been Thelma T. Price, who devoted her life fighting and educating others in equal opportunity for all.

Price, 88, passed away Jan. 8.

Price joined Penn State’s staff in 1964 as assistant dean of students at the New Kensington campus. She was named acting director of the equal opportunity program at University Park in 1971 and became assistant vice president for student affairs in 1972. She retired from the university in 1986, according to Penn State.