By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may no longer be with us, but his dream is alive and well.
Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and organizations across the country are prepared to celebrate Dr. King and his legacy. You can count Penn State Behrend among those organizations.
In honor of Dr. King and his dream, the college will hold the 2014 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemoration. Numerous themed events will be held during the week, including an “I Am His Dream” March, a community service project, viewings of the film The Butler, and more.
Andy Herrera, director of the Educational Equity and Diversity Office, chaired Penn State Behrend’s MLK Committee this year and helped plan many of the events.
I talked with Herrera about the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the activities planned at Behrend.
Steve: The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemoration has been a regular tradition at Behrend. Why is this an important week for the college?
Andy: I’ve been at Behrend for the past eleven years, and I’ve chaired the MLK Committee for most of those years. I’m very proud of the fact that Penn State Behrend has always been recognized in the Erie community for its MLK programming. We’ve had speakers ranging from Al Sharpton to Jesse Jackson. I recognized that when I started, and I wanted to continue the tradition of strong MLK programming.
It’s very important for two reasons. The first is the significance of that era in our nation’s history. It’s important for us and our students to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. It was not just about Dr. King, but he was the driving force behind that. The second reason is the message. The message of peace, justice, and equality for all is outstanding. It’s important to commemorate, celebrate, and promote the historic value and message within our campus community, especially to our students.
Steve: This year’s theme is titled “We Are His Dream.” How did you choose that theme?
Andy: Activities and events are planned by the Behrend MLK Committee, which includes faculty, staff, and students. A college-wide invitation is made in September and then different participants come together for discussions about the commemoration. For example, I ask each member of the committee, ‘Why are you on this committee? Why is this important to you?’ Everyone then shares their perspective on why it is important to them, and then we start looking for a theme. We may come up with a theme then and there, or we may look at possible events and performers to provide us with a theme.
When we were looking for performers this year, we ran across Michael Fosberg, who has a play called Incognito. The play details Fosberg’s life experience of being adopted and growing up to find out his father was an African American, which was an incredible realization for him. He then starts to try to figure out his background and identity. The story sounds incredible, so we decided to invite Michael and have our theme revolve around identity. We then started to think about who we are as a college. Of course, we are Penn State. But we also believe we are the type of community where all are respected, where there is equal justice, and where there is harmony. Hey, that sounds like Dr. King’s dream. So, in a way, we are his dream.
Steve: How has the MLK Commemoration changed since you started at Behrend eleven years ago?
Andy: When I first started, the luncheon used to be a breakfast, and we wanted to do it before everyone went back to work, so it would be at 7:00 a.m. If we were lucky, we would have one student show up. At some point, we decided to turn it into a brunch, and it helped. This year, we made it a lunch to help us fit in the march. The events have remained similar, though. We always try to have events that are meaningful and entertaining. We also try to do at least one community service project. This year, we will be partnering with the Erie City Mission to feed needy families. In the past, we have done Habitat for Humanity, and we did a college fair for Diehl Elementary School.
Steve: I can tell that a lot of planning and preparation goes into all of these events. What’s the ultimate goal in mind?
Andy: I think the ultimate goal is for people to learn about this time period. Students have some level of knowledge now, but it’s always good for them further learn about these moments in our nation’s history. Most importantly, I want them to be inspired to become better people.
Steve: Do you see the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemoration remaining a staple here at Behrend?
Andy: This is something that I think we’ll continue to do for as long as I’m here. This occasion is a good time to pause and ponder about that era and how it impacted our society for the better. Every year, I think this MLK Commemoration lends itself to a moment of reflection. Hopefully we can continue to learn about it, and also find inspiration in knowing that the efforts made during that time period have helped us become a better society and community.
Monday, Jan. 20: Incognito. Acclaimed author and performer Michael Fosberg shares the story of his personal journey to discover himself, his roots, his family, and the difficult history behind the tragic American complexity of “race.”
Campus Family Luncheon, 11:30 a.m., McGarvey Commons
(Presentation begins at noon).
Tuesday, Jan. 21: Students and MLK Commemoration Committee members will visit the Early Learning Center and conduct activities with the children related to MLK.
Early Learning Center, 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 22: The Butler. The Lion Entertainment Board presents the story of White House butler Eugene Allen, who witnessed great social change while serving eight different presidents over thirty years.
9:00 p.m., Reed Auditorium
(The film will be shown again at 9:00 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, and at 10:00 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, and Saturday, Jan. 25.)
Thursday, Jan. 23: “Who’s Cooking What?” The MLK Committee will partner with the Erie City Mission to help serve lunches to needy families. The committee will fundraise to purchase the ingredients, and students and volunteers will serve the families.
8:30 a.m., Erie City Mission