King event geared to young people, community

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Any event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should include two elements, according to Diane Hightower of Lower Burrell.

Those would be involving youths and community development, said Hightower, director of the nonprofit Hightower Scholars and a dean at Westmoreland County Community College.

She and Theresa Bonk, director of student affairs at Penn State New Kensington, think both will be evident at the fourth annual “Celebration of Unity” to honor the life and legacy of the martyred civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. The event will take place on Tuesday at the Penn State campus along Route 780 and will include a variety of activities that are free and open to the Alle-Kiski Valley community.

They include a volunteer fair, a panel discussion titled “Hunger, Homelessness and Education,” a community dinner and an interactive dance performance by the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble.

“One of our goals was to make our tribute to Dr. King more appealing to young people,” Hightower said. “As a result, we have made more of an extra effort to contact churches throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and ask them to invite their youth groups to this, and we were quite successful.”

That is also the reason for the Nonprofit Organizations Volunteer Fair, to give adults and young people an opportunity to help others by volunteering, Bonk and Hightower said.

Bonk said this year, 20 nonprofits have signed up to participate and will have booths at the campus to show the volunteer possibilities available.

“We want students to get involved in the community, we want them to give back to the community,” she said.

“This is how you keep Dr. King's spirit alive,” Hightower said.

All that also ties into the community development element.“What Unity Day reminds us, I believe, is the important of building relationships and Dr. King's obsession with community development,” Hightower said.

She said that is why those involved in organizing the event decided hold it the third Tuesday, not the third Monday which is the federal government's observance of King's birthday. Hightower said for many people who are off work on that day, other things such as family obligations can detract from what the day is about.

Instead, the organizers want people to be able focus on the volunteer possibilities, the fellowship of the community dinner and dance performance and a discussion about problems in the Valley.

The discussion on “Homelessness, Hunger and Education” will be moderated by Audrey Murrell, an associate professor of business administration, psychology, public and international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also the director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership at the university.

“This panel discussion will be looking at a variety of social issues dealing with hunger and homelessness and the people on this panel are people who are practitioners in this which I think is exceptional,” Hightower said.“What I would hope is that people come prepared to have a dialogue about how these three challenges affect the area,” Bonk said.

All of which is related to King's legacy of non-violent protest and achieving equality for everyone.

“Our valley has a long history and commitment to the civil rights movement,” Hightower said. The purpose of Unity Day is to keep that light shining bright

She said as time passes, it is easy for people who did not live through the civil rights era of the 1960s to forget or not realize King's contributions and what they mean for everyone.

“We tend to forget that all of us stand on the shoulders of giants,” Hightower said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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