Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy honored with events at Penn State

MLK Day 2024 is being celebrated with activities throughout January at several campuses
A black and white image of Martin Luther King speaking at a podium

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to an estimated 9,000 people on Jan. 21, 1965, inside Penn State's newly expanded Recreation Hall on the University Park campus.

Credit: Penn State University Archives

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State campus communities will honor the life and legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. with events and activities to be held on MLK Day 2024, Monday, Jan. 15, and throughout the month.

Observed on the third Monday of January each year, MLK Day is a federal holiday in the United States marking King’s birthday. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929. Penn State now observes MLK Day as an official University holiday.

Penn State University Park

MLK Jr. On-Campus Day of Service — 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Monday, Jan. 15, HUB Alumni Hall, Heritage Hall. Meet in the HUB Alumni Hall in the morning and then move to various locations in the HUB for in-house service events. Sponsored by Student Leadership and Involvement Team. Sign up for the Day of Service online using OrgCentral.

The 49th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet 4:30–8 p.m., Monday, Jan. 15, Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State's Forum on Black Affairs (FOBA) will host the banquet at the Bryce Jordan Center to celebrate a week of commemoration focused on the theme "The Movement Continues: Embracing MLK's Dream of a Better World for All," celebrating King's vision of a world where everyone is treated equally, regardless of race, religion or gender. Join FOBA for a buffet dinner and cash bar, performances, recognition of the 2024 Forum of Black Affairs Humanitarian Award and student scholarship winners, and dancing. Tickets can be purchased in advance online on a first-come, first-served basis. Penn State units or departments looking to purchase via internal funds transfer should contact the Bryce Jordan Center at 814-865-5555 or [email protected]. Learn more about the banquet here.

Evening Celebration with guest speaker Solidad O’Brien — 7–8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 16, HUB Heritage Hall. Press time begins at 6 p.m. O'Brien is an award-winning documentarian, journalist, speaker, author and philanthropist, and founder of a media production company dedicated to telling empowering and authentic stories on a range of social issues. She anchors and produces "Matter of Fact with Soledad O'Brien" and is a correspondent for HBO Real Sports. She is the author of a critically acclaimed memoir, "The Next Big Story," and "Latino in America." She founded the PowHerful foundation in 2011, which has helped dozens of young women get to and through college and connects with thousands of others through regional mentoring conferences. Sponsored by the Student Leadership and Involvement Team in partnership with University Park Undergraduate Association and the Student Programming Association.

The Peace March and Celebration CeremonyWednesday, Jan. 17. Meet at 2 p.m. at Martin Luther King Plaza, march begins at 2:30 p.m. The Peace March, hosted by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center in collaboration with the State College Borough, embraces the support of our student body and campus community. Commencing at the MLK Jr. Plaza in downtown State College, the march is a symbolic journey culminating at the HUB-Robeson Center’s Lions Lair for the Celebration Ceremony. This uplifting event will feature captivating student performances and inspiring speeches. We invite you to join us in solidarity as we march for unity, carrying forward the legacy of Dr. King’s timeless movement. The 4 p.m. Celebration Ceremony will be comprised of student performances and speeches. Light food will be served. RSVP is requested in advance.

"Waste and Labor" film screening7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, online (free and open to all campuses). In the weeks before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to support a months-long strike by sanitation workers. King recognized that the work of the civil rights movement increasingly needed to be connected to the work of the labor movement — since without safe, well-paying, meaningful work all other human rights are in jeopardy. Sixty years later, sanitation workers and those who work with waste and recycling remain vulnerable to unsafe and low-paying work, despite their integral role in keeping society running. This series of short films and discussion will look at the intersections of waste and labor around the world. Free and open to all; registration for the "Waste and Labor" film screening is required. Co-presented by Penn State Sustainability and the Center for Global Workers' Rights.

Poetry, Prose, and Performance Night — 6–8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, HUB Room 008. Join us for a vibrant celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, filled with artistry, poetry and the compelling power of spoken word, as we bring together faculty, students and staff along with a featured spoken word artist to honor King's enduring legacy. Those who would like to perform are invited to complete the registration form.

"A Choral Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, Eisenhower Auditorium. Howard Gospel Choir of Howard University, Penn State choirs Essence of Joy and Essence 2 Ltd., and the State College Area High School Mastersingers will use their voices to uplift and celebrate the hymns and protest songs of an embattled community during a tumultuous era. The event also will include performances by the Penn State dance ensembles Afrique Fusion Dance Team, Black Elites Dance Team, Dark Storm Team and Island Fever. Find out more information and purchase tickets for "A Choral Tribute" here.

Penn State Abington

Fifth Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Awards  3–4:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 22, Lubert Commons, Lares Building. This ceremony, sponsored by the Student Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, honors members of the Penn State Abington community who embody the spirit of King through their daily work and service. Students, faculty, staff and alumni who have supported and facilitated programs and initiatives that enhance opportunities for underrepresented populations have been nominated for the Drum Major for Justice Awards.

Penn State Altoona

The 24th annual African American Read-In at Penn State AltoonaFeb. 18-19, Altoona campus. This year’s theme, “Black Ecologies,” celebrates environmental writing by Black authors who examine the human relationship with the more-than-human world. Their works explore topics from wilderness and outdoor adventure to gardening, geography, environmental science, urban nature, and issues such as environmental justice and climate change. A full list of events is available here, including a community dinner; an open-mic event; a keynote presentation by professor, columnist and artist Carolyn Finney; and a reading by professor, author and poet Tyree Daye.

Penn State Behrend

These programs at Penn State Behrend are free and open to the public. All are sponsored by the Office of Educational Equity and Diversity Programs and the Student Activity Fee.

Martin Luther King Jr. march and events in downtown Erie — 11:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, Jan. 15. Meet in the Wintergarden of the Reed Union Building to coordinate travel. Members of the Behrend community are invited to join the Black Student Union to participate in Erie’s annual MLK march. Participants will meet at 11:15 a.m. and ride an EMTA bus to the march site.

MLK Day of Service — 9:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., Monday, Jan. 15, at sites in Fayette County. Behrend students, faculty and staff will participate in community service projects as part of the annual MLK Day of Service, hosted this year at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus. For details, or to join the group, contact the Office of Civic Engagement at [email protected] or 814-898-6609.

Campus Family Brunch 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 17, McGarvey Commons. All members of the Behrend community are invited to the annual Campus Family Brunch. Food will be served from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The one-man play “Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race and Self-Discovery,” will be staged at noon.

Screening of the documentary film “At the River I Stand: The Climax of the Civil Rights Movement” — 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, Reed Auditorium. The film explores how a strike by Memphis sanitation workers expanded into a moment of national activism, which spread until the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.

Penn State Berks

The 1/15/24 MLK Day of Service – Invasive Species Removal — Jan. 15, meet at 9 a.m. at Janssen Conference Center. Hosted by the Penn State Berks Sustainability Council, with special thanks to community partner Gring's Mill, Berks faculty, staff and student volunteers will meet at Janssen Conference Center for orientation, then work outside with hand tools removing invasive species until 11:30 a.m. At that time, volunteers will regroup at Janssen Conference Center for pizza and hot drinks.  

MLK Celebration — 6 p.m. start, Thursday, Jan. 18, Perkins Auditorium (performance) and MPR1 (awards reception). Hosted by the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee; Arts & Lecture Series; and Campus Life. The program, open to the public, includes:

  • Live performance by Key Arts Productions, who will present "Kings Dream."  About the show: An enthralling live performance and multimedia presentation offering a rousing tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. The era of the turbulent 1960s comes alive with images, singers and songs that capture the spirit of the civil rights movement and the story of drama, courage and perseverance.

  • Awards reception and light refreshments — Penn State Berks will recognize individuals in the community who embody the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through community service, leadership and commitment to social justice and positive change.

Penn State Brandywine

Empowerment: “Put People First! PA and the Real, Revolutionary Dr. King” — 12:15-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, Tomezsko Lounge. Join leaders from Put People First! PA, a statewide, grassroots, staff-free, working-class human rights organization uniting everyday people around health care as a human right. They will discuss King's final two years of life and the legacy of his "three pivots" — from reform to revolution, from civil rights to human rights, and toward the interconnection of racism to militarism and poverty. Lunch will be available.

Connect: Black Student Union Table Talk — 6–9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, Student Union 114-117. Celebrate MLK Week with the Black Student Union's Black Table Talk. Join us for a conversation led by BSU members as we explore Martin Luther King Jr.'s lasting legacy in civil rights and social justice. Light food will be provided.

Service: Projects of Survival — 12:15–1:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, Student Union Fireside Lounge. Join us for a special MLK Week event dedicated to community service. We're partnering with Put People First! PA for a Projects of Survival initiative inspired by the Black Panther Party's “Survival Programs.” Students are invited to come together and assemble care packages for individuals experiencing homelessness during the winter.

Penn State Dickinson Law

35th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Civic Ceremony, sponsored by Penn State Dickinson Law, the Antiracist Development Institute, and the Borough of Carlisle, will take place Monday, Jan. 15:

  • 10 a.m. – Community Commemoration March — Gathering time is 9:45 a.m. at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, 409 N. West St., Carlisle, proceeding to Penn State Dickinson Law campus.
  • 11 a.m. – Panel Discussion – “Dr. King’s Letter to Us” — Apfelbaum Family Courtroom and Auditorium, Penn State Dickinson Law, 150 S. College St., Carlisle. Passages of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” will be read and discussed by a panel of community members.
  • Afternoon sessions will include research presentations and a research presentation discussion Q&A session hosted by Mid Atlantic Black Law Student Association.

Penn State Harrisburg

Penn State Harrisburg 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative banquet5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey. The event's theme — "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" — is based on King’s 1967 book of the same name, which advocated for human rights and a sense of hope. The event will recognize local community members and feature guest speakers and musical performances by local and student artists. Visit the Harrisburg banquet site for more information and to register.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Service Activity – Children’s Snack Drive — through Thursday, Jan. 11. Contribute nonperishable items such as granola bars, individual packets of fruit snacks, or individual packs of pretzels for children in the greater Harrisburg area (avoid purchasing items that contain nuts or peanut butter). Collection boxes are located in the Olmsted Atrium and SEC Living Room. Assembled snack bags will be donated to United Way’s Ready for School, Ready to Succeed school readiness initiative where they will be distributed to children attending a workshop for field trip. Contact Jenn Shultz at [email protected] with questions.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Service Activity – Service Opportunity — 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, Gallery Lounge, Olmsted W107. Help package and decorate snack bags for children in the greater Harrisburg area with collected snacks. Contact Jenn Shultz at [email protected] with questions.

"Miss Lydia’s Church" – a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Play — 2–4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, Kulkarni Theatre, Student Enrichment Center. About the play: In January 1924, in the middle of a snowstorm, four people, two sets of strangers, came together. Two were white, two were Black. Two were female, two were male. Two were steeped in religion, two were centered in astronomy. All were wishing for better relations between the races. What brought these strangers together? Was it a moon phase or a planetary shift? Perhaps it was something deeper and farther away. One hundred years later, these four individuals have much to tell us about engaging in the difficult discourses that are important in the healing of oneself and the nation. Reserve your seat for this free event.

Penn State Hazleton

The Life and Work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, Center for Multicultural Engagement. Join us for a reception honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Coffee, tea and refreshments will be provided.

King’s Dream: The Life and Work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — Noon on Thursday, Jan. 18, Black Box Theater. Join Penn State Hazleton and Key Arts Productions for a live performance and multimedia presentation that pays tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. This event captures the essence of the civil rights movement and brings to life the era of the 1960s with powerful video-projected archival film and images, singers and inspiring songs. Be transported to the heart of the campaign as we showcase the drama, courage and perseverance that were the hallmarks of King's peaceful revolution for equal rights.

Penn State Lehigh Valley

Off-campus MLK Day of Service — 9 a.m.–noon Monday, Jan 15. Volunteer at the 6th Street Shelter in Allentown. We will be helping to organize, clean, paint and complete any other needed projects. Co-hosted by Community Heroes Service Club. Contact President Annah Liberg for more information at [email protected] or Pam Fleck in Student Affairs at [email protected]. Sign up here to volunteer at the 6th Street Shelter Jan 15.

On-campus Service project for Safe Harbor — 12:15–1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, Second Floor Student Lounge. On-campus service project for clients of Safe Harbor in Easton, a drop-in center for those who are homeless in the surrounding areas. We will be assembling items to share with the clients; Contact Pam Fleck for information: [email protected]

"WE ARE Sharing our Stories" — 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, Room 135. Student Affairs and the All in Campus Committee invites you to join us as we foster an environment of diversity, awareness and inclusion through this program. Share your story and listen to the life experiences of others. Fill-in templates are provided to allow you to quickly share information on your own personal history, background, culture and interests. The event is open to the entire Penn State Lehigh Valley campus community.

Penn State Shenango

Western Region MLK Day of Service — 9 a.m.–4:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15. Penn State Shenango students will join other Penn State students from across the commonwealth at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, for a Western Region Day of Service.

Penn State Wilkes-Barre

MLK Day of Service: "Blankets & Broth" Volunteering Opportunity — Monday, Jan. 15. The Wilkes-Barre NAACP, Friedman JCC, O'Donnell Law Firm, and Wilkes-Barre City Health Department will be conducting a service event called "Blankets & Broth." We will join them for this volunteer opportunity at the Jewish Community Center in Kingston, Pennsylvania, assembling blankets and collecting soup cans for those in need. The blankets and soup will then be given to Keystone Mission, Ruth's Place and Sarah's Table.

MLK Movie Screening: Selma (2014) 5:15 foreword, 6 p.m. movie, Tuesday, Jan. 16, Nesbitt Academic Commons Auditorium. "Selma" (2014, 2 hours, 8 minutes) is a gripping historical drama that chronicles the pivotal events of the civil rights movement in 1965. There will be a special forward introduction by Bill Bachman, offering insightful perspectives on the historical context and significance of this momentous period. This event is funded by the Penn State CoDEI Programming Support Grant and is open to all campus faculty, staff and students. Food and beverages will be provided for all.

Kahoot!: MLK Edition — Thursday, Jan. 18, Student Commons Building. Play a round of Kahoot!: MLK Edition and test your knowledge about Martin Luther King Jr. The first-place winner will receive an Amazon gift card for $25; prize eligibility is for students only.

Penn State York

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service — Noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, Precision Custom Components Community Room, Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center, Penn State York. To honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Penn State York has planned a day of service. Students, faculty and staff will be assembling more than 250 care kits that will benefit the Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This event is sponsored by the Student Government Association at Penn State York and the campus Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. For additional information, contact Bryce Thoman at [email protected].

Poster Display — Through Jan. 31. In addition to the day of service, posters are being displayed throughout the campus highlighting the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. The poster series is sponsored by the Penn State York Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee.

Pennsylvania College of Technology

Dinner and Discussion: Poverty Simulation — Jan. 17, 5–7 p.m., Penn College Field House. Sponsored by Student Engagement at Penn College in partnership with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.