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The History of MLK and Penn

February 11, 2014

mlk_liberalMartin Luther King Jr., a Civil Rights Movement activist and Pastor is reputed to be one of the most influential and impactful men in American History. But as a scholar, Dr. King had an extensive educational background. After graduating from Morehouse College, he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary and audited three classes at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Arts and Science.

Although Dr. King’s short time at Penn is not largely documented, his legacy is continued in various ways on campus.

As most universities across the nation every year, Penn recognizes Martin Luther King Day by cancelling classes. Many clubs and organizations take advantage of this day by giving back to the Penn Community, the surrounding community, or performing acts of remembrance and gratitude. The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. hosted a candle light vigil at the W.E.B. DuBois College House that celebrated Dr. King’s Legacy and brought a meaningful end to the day of service.

A Commemorative Symposium on Social Change for Dr. King is also held annually at Penn. The program honors the life and core mission of Martin Luther King by “improving the lives of people victimized by dominant cultural oppressions.” The keynote speakers for the symposium this year were George A. Weiss, Penn’s professor for Law and Sociology, and Dorothy Roberts, a scholar on race, gender and law.

Martin Luther King’s influence is long lasting in every aspect of the American culture and even the Penn culture, which is evident in its efforts to take strides that honor his life.

Toluwaloshe Ayo-Ariyo CAS’17


Dr. Audrey Nonhlanhla Mbeje

February 10, 2014


Dr. Audrey Nonhlanhla Mbeje is the director of the African Language Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Mbeje’s received her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Ball State University with concentrations in theoretical linguistics, second language acquisition, and rhetoric. As a professor of a “less commonly taught language,” Zulu, Mbeje is working to develop text-based and online materials for studying Zulu and other African languages.

In addition to teaching courses like Zulu and “African Language and Culture” at Penn, Mbeje is a former president of the African Language Teacher Association, an organization that works for the advancement of the teaching of African languages. She also published Zulu Learners’ Reference Grammar, the first grammar textbook written by a native Zulu speaker targeting second language learners. This book is used to teach Zulu all over the world.

Dr. Mbeje hopes to collaborate with institutions and colleagues to increase interest in less commonly taught languages. At Penn, she works to connect students with funding so that they may continue studying Zulu and other African languages.

Nina Blalock CAS’14

Bill Lowe

February 7, 2014


Bass trombonist and tubaist Bill Lowe is a performer, composer, producer, and educator. Having worked with masters of African-American musical expression across many genres, he has been a major influence in the music world.

Lowe’s musical experience includes working with legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Foster, Clark Terry, and Eartha Kitt. He has collaborated with leaders of the avant-garde, and mentored and inspired up and coming musicians from all over the world. In addition to performing and studying music, incorporating jazz into the university setting has been one of Lowe’s passions.

As an educator, Professor Lowe offers a broad perspective of jazz studies that moves away from the usual star-centered studies, and focuses on the experiences of the musicians that have kept this music alive. Professor Lowe has taught African American studies, Jazz Studies, and Music at several major universities including the University of Pennsylvania, Northeastern University, Columbia University, Barnard College, , Wesleyan University, Yale University, City University in New York, and the New England Conservatory. In addition to teaching, Lowe has lectured to audiences about jazz in many parts of the world, including Cuba and London.

Nina Blalock CAS’14

The ARCH: Past and Present

February 6, 2014

Arch 370 x 300_0


February 6, 2014 marks the official reopening of Penn’s multicultural center and research hub, the ARCH (Arts, Research and Culture House). The ARCH is home to three multicultural centers—Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, La Casa Latina—Center for Hispanic Excellence, and PAACH—the Pan Asian American Community House. It also houses the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF).

The building, which was originally built to house the Christian Association in 1928, was purchased by Penn in 1999 and since then has been making a substantial contribution to university life. The three cultural resource centers were established over a decade ago, when Penn decided to expand its mission to provide support for students of color and to foster intercultural understanding on campus. They are located on the ground floor, where students are encouraged and nurtured as well as given the space to intermingle in each center’s living room and the shared lounge / study area. CURF occupies offices on the second and third floors of the ARCH. It supplies research and fellowship advising to over 1,300 undergraduates, and supports the Benjamin Franklin Scholars and University Scholars Programs.

While the three multicultural centers and CURF are the focal points of the ARCH, there are also several spaces available for meetings, classes, presentations, and other gatherings. The building will also soon boast one of Penn’s more diverse eating options—Tortas Frontera Café, a gourmet Mexican-American eatery. The  ARCH is a testament of the University’s dedication to cultural awareness and undergraduate research.

Please visit the ARCH, 3601 Locust Walk, for the reopening celebration on Thursday, February 6 from 3-7pm.

Toluwaloshe Ayo-Ariyo CAS ’17

Setting the Context: Part 4

February 5, 2014


It has been a year since the University of Pennsylvania’s director of Makuu: Black Cultural Center, Brian Peterson, posed the following questions: “What does it mean to be Black in this space and time” and “What can and should our center do to best serve the interests of our students, the university, the city, and the broader world in which our future graduates will leave their marks?”

Today, these are questions we are facing once again. And I do not hesitate to echo Dr. Peterson and ponder– when our nation and our campus are still very much afraid to indulge in dialogue about racial mistreatment and misrepresentation–the ways in which we are collectively and individually working to get more done now.

But what does “more” mean and what does it look like? In order to answer this question, I think it’s imperative to take a step back and briefly recall some facts about the numerical history of our University :

2014 marks the 133rd year anniversary of the graduation of Penn’s first black student (James Brister, D.D.S., 1881). This historical landmark occurred 141 years after Penn’s founding. Fast-forward to Penn admissions of black students (and keep in mind that the University’s use of the term “black” is quite loose) in 2013, and black students constitute a total of 7.1% of the undergraduate pool on campus.

7.1% out of an undergraduate class of 10, 319 students.

7.1% meaning 732 (University defined) black students can claim Penn as their home.

Let this number float in your mind. And while it’s floating, let’s put it beside another: 665, 471. This was the 2013 census count which reported the total number of black residents living in Philadelphia.

And still, the question permeates: What does it mean to be Black in this space and time–especially when 133 years after Brister’s graduation, both access and opportunity fall far from definitions of equality for all? Moreover, how do these numbers reflect what Africana Professor Camille Charles described as the “cosmetic–[and] not substantive–progress” of Penn’s self-aggrandizing efforts toward diversity?

This post does not scratch the surface regarding the many historical achievements and failings of our University when it comes to the recorded legacies of black students, activism, and excellence. What I hope to shed light on, however, are the ways in which even this small bit of quantitative data illuminates the plight of many Black students on this campus. Not only have we been faced with the gnawing question of how we arrived at this place, in this time, but our journeys on this campus culminate with an interminable question of what we will do to progress while we are here.

The Reflections blog is one of many ways we, the Black students on Penn’s campus, continue to equip ourselves with the histories of those who came and fought before us. What we hope to build is more than a pastiche of numbers, facts, and figures which are only given significance during the month in which they are presented. Rather, it is a staircase that we build in celebration of the past and the present, one way for us to begin a dialogue that will ignite the work we have been called to do in this space right now.

Victoria Ford CAS’15

Marc Lamont Hill

February 26, 2013

Marc Lamont Hill is a commentator, journalist, activist, and Associate Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and a Penn alum.

Dr. Hill’s research deals primarily with race, prisons, and youth cultural production. Dr. Hill received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.S. in education and Spanish from Temple University. He taught at Temple University before joining Columbia’s faculty in 2009.

In addition to his research, Dr. Hill also has focused on activism. In 2001 he started a literacy program that made use of hip-hop culture to teach Philadelphia high school students. Hill has worked closely with the ACLU’s Drug Reform Project, specifically on reforming informant policy. He also organizes adult literacy courses in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Hill served as a contributor for Fox News from 2007-2009. He also has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC and CNN. Currently, Hill is host of Our World with Black Enterprise. In 2012, Dr. Hill joined Huffington Post Live as one of its 10 inaugural hosts. He also regularly writes for Huffington Post.

–Lauren Alcena CAS ’13


Harold Haskins

February 25, 2013

Harold Haskins was appointed as the Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Pennsylvania in 1973. After transitioning into the role of Director of Student Development Planning, Mr. Haskins retired after 33 years of serving both the Penn community at-large but also the university’s under-represented minorities.

Even before his time at Penn, Haskins made a substantial impact to the Philadelphia community. In 1967, Haskins produced the iconic film “The Jungle,” covering the gang life of North Philadelphia teens. After winning a Documentary Film Award at Festival de Popoli, Italy and encouraging hundreds of teen gangs to disband and go continue their education, Haskins took his drive and energy into Penn where he help combated the numerous black sit-ins and protests that occurred in the early 1970s.

Mr. Haskins left behind a legacy rooted in advocacy that promoted projects to engage students during their undergraduate and graduate tenures at Penn. Much of his work on Penn’s campus is not only visible, but is very much embedded in the current university atmosphere. Along with Bill Whitney in 1980, Mr. Haskin helped to found The Leadership Education and Development Program (LEAD), a four-week summer program at the Wharton School which introduces youth of diverse backgrounds to the world of business. His other efforts on the University include the founding of the university-wide Tutoring Center, the Onyx Senior Honor Society, Support Services, Department of Academic Support Services, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Ph.D. Accelerator Program, which is a pilot summer project that introduces rising minority high school sophomores to research skills.

A great deal of Mr. Haskin’s work, from encouraging student’s academic growth to nurturing their leadership dexterities, is immeasurable. Following his retirement,” The Harold Haskins Fund” was established to commemorate the tireless contributions Mr. Haskins made to generations of Penn students and their families. The fund supports meaningful recognition honoring Mr. Haskin’s and to fund student-related initiatives and programs.

–Victoria Ford CAS ’15 & Ernest Owens CAS ’14