On Monday, Jan. 16, Drexel University’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, in cooperation with Action for Early Learning (AFEL), the Mantua Civic Association, WHYY, Digital Navigators, Literacy and More and Drexel’s own Thomas R. Kline School of Law, hosted its annual event in honor of African-American civil rights hero Doctor and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
The aptly titled “MLK Family and Fun Learning Day” featured an impassioned recitation of King’s “I have a Dream” speech by West Philadelphia community member Rose Bryant followed by a read-along of Dr. Bernice King’s book “It Starts With Me” by a member of Fab Youth Philly, another community organization housed on Dornsife’s Spring Garden campus. This was the first year the event included a read-along of the younger King’s story and event organizers Rachel Viddy, project director for the West Philly Promise Neighborhood, and Cory Johnson, program manager with Action for Early Learning, were proud to showcase this story to the community.
“Sometimes we read biographies [of Martin Luther King Jr.], but this year we found this really great book, ‘It starts with me,’” explained Johnson. “Miss Rose, our featured speaker, connected us to the King Center…and,” she said, “we [wanted] to center this event around this book.”
The book’s youthful, approachable content was enormously appealing to Johnson and Viddy, who wanted to cater both to the young children served by AFEL, and to the families that would attend the event. “It has a range and a mission that we thought was very important to share. The pledge of ‘Be Love,’ I thought that was really cool that we all got to take that together,” elaborated Johnson. “I was excited this year to use a new book…I think it has a strong message. I love that it was written by Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter and continues his legacy.”
After the read-along concluded, attendees were given the opportunity to socialize and take part in activities that celebrated the spirit of King and his daughter.
“It’s a great time to connect…we love to reconnect with our community members and our friends,” added Viddy.
“I think this is a good example of how an event, how the Dornsife Center… both as a part of Drexel and with students, with staff, with these different initiatives, can work within the community…we had young people here, we had families…looking at this space, especially for a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event, this is really illustrative of the kind of connections and the work we’ve done in the past. Every time that we can connect with our neighbors, with families, that’s always a win,” said Viddy.
Beyond its specific programming like the MLK Day event, the Dornsife Center is home to a variety of services that benefit the West Philadelphia community, offering residents access to healthcare, legal advice, skill building in technology and a community garden managed by Drexel Urban Growers. Looking to the future, Viddy and Johnson hope to spread the great work Dornsife does across the wider Drexel community and encourage all students to check out Dornsife’s monthly community dinners, the next of which will be held on Feb. 14.