NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality among races moves closer to reality during Unity Week, Monday to Friday, Jan. 23 to 27, at Penn State New Kensington. The campus joins hands with the community in celebrating the life and works of the slain civil rights leader through various events that promote inclusion.
Students, faculty and staff will come together with Hightower Scholars Inc., area communities, local businesses and neighborhood churches to memorialize King. The observance is a blend of advocacy, diversity and festivity, fused with cultural entertainment and education.
A continuation of New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider’s strategic plan to bring the campus community to the Alle-Kiski Valley community, the weeklong commemoration features a community lunch and dinner, the annual advocacy fair, a performing artist and a movie. Events are free for students. The artist and advocacy fair are free to the public.
“The weeklong series gives students the opportunity to develop their intercultural communications skills, learn more about community engagement, social justice and advocacy, and celebrate the diversity of our community,” said John Spiglemyer, graduate assistant in the Student Affairs office.
The celebration begins at 12:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, with Tom Varano, an inspirational speaker and performing artist. Varano shares personal stories and talks about civil rights movements while speed-painting custom portraits. Using his fingertips, palms and multiple brushes on a four-foot by five-foot canvas, he illustrates famous people and iconic objects to choreographed music. Varano performed at the campus two years ago and painted King, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein and the Statue of Liberty.
A panel discussion on diversity and inclusion is set for noon on Tuesday, Jan. 24, in the Art Gallery. Charleon Jeffries, coordinator of diversity education at Penn State University Park, will moderate the presentation “Building a Diversity Alliance at PSNK.” The discussion is part of Penn State’s “All In” initiative: Unveiled in fall 2016, campuses across the Commonwealth foster a community-wide commitment to an evolving University that values its diverse student body, faculty and staff.
“Charleon Jeffries is an experienced professional in the field of intercultural education in the Affirmative Action Office at Penn State,” said Theresa Bonk, director of student affairs at the campus. “This is an opportunity for the campus community to engage in a conversation about their role in making our campus a more welcoming and open environment.”
Volunteering at nonprofit organizations is the theme of the Human Rights Advocacy Fair that runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the theater and main entrance lobbies. The fair features charitable groups providing information on community service opportunities, including internships, available at the organizations. Nonprofits at the fair will be: Allegheny-Kiski Valley NAACP; Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center; Allegheny Hospitals; Arc Manor; Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Blackburn Center; Community Health Clinic; Faith in Action; Global Links; Havin Inc.; Heritage Hospice; Homeless Children's Education Fund; Pennsylvania Women at Work; United Way of Westmoreland County; and Valley Points YMCA New Kensington.
The featured day for activities, include the Unity dinner, is Thursday, Jan. 26. The Diversity Club is sponsoring an LGBTQ Advocacy Event from noon to 1:30 p.m. in Café 780. Students, faculty and staff can show support by creating tie-dye rainbow t-shirts. The movie, “A Better Life” follows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the café.
The Unity dinner, with potluck ethnic cuisine, begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Conference Center. Charitable groups and faith-based organizations are special guests at the dinner. The highlight of the evening is the lighting of a unity candle by members of the campus and community.
New to the MLK activities schedule is an essay contest for fifth-graders at Roy A. Hunt Elementary School in the New Kensington-Arnold School District. Students submitted essays on the topic “He had a Dream: Do You?” New Kensington campus students, faculty and staff will judge the essays and choose the top three from each class. The honored students will read their essays at the Unity dinner.
The MLK festivities culminate on Friday, Jan. 27, with “All Campus Diversity Alliance Celebration,” from noon to 1:10 p.m. in Café 780. The campus community is encouraged to wear their “All In” t-shirts and partake in a smorgasbord of international cuisine.
Diane Hightower, executive director of Hightower Scholars, and Bonk developed the multimedia program for the 88th anniversary of King's birth. Hightower Scholars is a nonprofit organization that assists students with their preparation for a postsecondary education at a four-year college or university. The campus’ Student Affairs office provides support services to students from underrepresented populations, as well as international students.
Diversity events at the New Kensington campus will continue throughout the semester, including Black History Month in February and "Dinner and Dialogue: Brazilian Round-Up" in April. Brazil is this year’s Country of Focus.
For more information, call 724-334-6062.
Upcoming “All In” Events
— Soul Food Festival, Feb. 1
— Dinner and Dialogue: Black History, Feb. 8
— Soul Steps dance performance, Feb. 22
— Fat Tuesday celebration, Feb. 28
— Lady Cares, spoken-word artist, March 22
— Lunch and Learn: Women’s History and Women Today, March 27
— World Health Day, April 7
— Musician Jared Mahone, April 1
— Dinner and Dialogue: Brazilian Round-Up, April 10