Martin Luther King Jr. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Barack Obama. Harvey Milk. Langston Hughes. Gloria Steinem.
These influential leaders and talented wordsmiths were among the authors chosen to give voice to democracy on Wednesday.
During the course of the evening, 34 speakers — Penn State faculty, staff and graduate students — shared speeches, poems, essays and other messages meant to celebrate democracy and offer hope in the Carnegie Building on Penn State’s campus.
The readings were as diverse as the people sharing them — from a Hawaiian chant for strength to the First Amendment to an excerpt from George Washington’s farewell address.
Several speakers offered messages they penned, including Gabriel Green, who delivered his poem “Letters For My Father.”
Green, a graduate student in the English department, described himself as a black poet who will not sit silently while this country “murders” black people. The poem invokes the fear and worry that a father has for his black son in America.
Jack Selzer, Paterno family liberal arts professor of literature, said this isn’t the first time American civil conversation has been this fractured.
Jeremy Engels, associate professor of communication arts and sciences, said he asked his students to summarize the mood of the nation. All the words they used were negative.
“I don’t believe that we’re hopeless,” he said.
An excerpt from Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 prompted Courtney Desiree Morris to say “I don’t know about y’all, but I miss Obama already.”
Morris, an assistant professor of African-American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, read “For Sweet Honey in the Rock” by Sonia Sanchez.
Morris told the audience to outrun and outlast those who want to destroy democracy.
The event — called “Voices of Democracy” — was sponsored by the departments of communication arts and sciences, African-American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies and the Center for Democratic Deliberation.
“I hope we were all inspired to move forward and use our voices well,” said Denise Solomon, head and liberal arts research professor of communication arts and sciences and an organizer of the event.