On January 19, 2023, the University of Pennsylvania Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Commemoration was held in Bodek Lounge, Houston Hall. The event included student performances from Penn Masti, Shabbatones, and The Inspiration, as well as reflections from Penn student leaders and President Liz Magill. The keynote speaker was Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace.
The event included the presentation of the MLK Service Awards, honoring the engagement and service of those who best exemplify the ideas Dr. King espoused.
This year’s award recipients are:
Community Education Award in Honor of Dr. Judith Rodin
Herman Beavers is the Julie Beren Platt and Marc E. Platt President’s Distinguished Professor of English and Africana Studies at Penn. As faculty director of Penn’s Civic House and the Civic Scholars Program, he helps prepare students for responsible community engagement through social justice education. Dr. Beavers works to expand education and civic engagement beyond the parameters of the classroom. He pushes his students, regardless of race, to encounter African American literature, which he considers central to the national canon. He insists, “August Wilson, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison belong to you. They have things to say to you as an American, as a human.”
In Dr. Beavers’ work to expand social and racial justice, and civic engagement, he frequently speaks and participates in discussions across campus and has participated in podcasts and the virtual Lightbulb Cafe. For Penn Alumni Lifelong Learning programs, Dr. Beavers co-hosted a Reading Club event on James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time, and gave lectures which introduced new audiences to African American literature and themes of systemic racism and white supremacy.
Community Involvement Award–Community Member
Melany P. Nelson is the director of the CARES Unit at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and has devoted over 27 years of her life to helping those affected by crime. She began her victim advocacy journey at Northwest Victim Services while she was in high school and has served in various volunteer roles including, courtroom volunteer, fundraising committee member, community outreach member, and the interim administrative assistant. As director of the CARES Unit, Ms. Nelson provides crisis support immediately after a homicide at crime scenes and at certain hospitals in Philadelphia. She devotes most of her personal time to assisting victims of crime and educating the public on current issues and current events taking place in Philadelphia. Ms. Nelson also serves on the Homicide Review Team for Youth at the Medical Examiner’s Office, the Restorative Justice Coalition at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Philadelphia Suicide Prevention Task Force. She is a responder for the Keystone Crisis Intervention Team (KCIT). She is also a responder for the Network of Neighbors, which responds to violent and traumatic incidents that occur with youth 19 years old and younger.
The Reverend Dr. Joe Nock has over 25 years of experience in ministry as a preacher, teacher, counselor, conference speaker, mentor, and community activist. He has a passion for educating youth and hosts college tours twice a year. He serves as the vice chair of the Netter Center’s community advisory board; president of the 16th District Police Chaplains; and president of the school advisory council at Motivation High School. He also has served as the convener for the Parkside Historical Coalition’s monthly meetings for the past five years. Dr. Nock served as senior pastor of Second Antioch Baptist Church in West Philadelphia and now serves as the under shepherd of a spirit-led and word-based ministry.
Community Involvement Award–Staff and Faculty
Paulette Branson is the director of university-assisted community schools sports, fitness, and health at Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships. She is a dynamic leader, passionate about sports-based youth development and improving access and opportunity for K-12 students. Ms. Branson has coached, designed, and implemented sports programs for over 1,000 youth in the Philadelphia area, all while contributing to teaching and learning in the sports field as an administrator, educator, and trainer. Her work mobilizes university academic and human resources to support K-12 sports, fitness and health programs and partnerships. Ms. Branson is also the founder and frontwoman of Mixed People, a funk and soul band, and she brings her musical talents to support youth arts programs.
Community Involvement Award–Graduate Student
Jasmine Brown is currently a medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a Rhodes Scholar who earned a master’s degree at the University of Oxford in England after earning her bachelor’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis.
For many years, Ms. Brown has worked towards social justice, striving to alleviate systemic inequalities rooted in racism through her scholarly work and community outreach. During Ms. Brown’s undergraduate work at Washington University in St. Louis, she founded the Minority Association of Rising Scientists and served as its president. Her debut book, Twice As Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians from the Civil War to the 21st Century, demonstrates Dr. King’s philosophy of alleviating the evils of poverty and racism by outlining the historical roots of the inequities that still exist today. She focuses on energizing the community to unite and work toward social justice within the medical space.
Community Involvement Award–Undergraduate Student
Mya Gordon is an undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Penn, majoring in urban studies. Ms. Gordon is a civic development intern with the Netter Center and a Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Paideia program student advisory board member. She is committed to finding ways to use social policy to engage marginalized community members with institutions to improve the support provided to underserved communities. Ms. Gordon honed her community organizing and activism skills by engaging in extracurricular activities with the Netter Center, the SNF Paideia program, and Makuu.
She is working on SNF Paideia-funded dialogue with the Netter Center student advisory board to create more discourse among students representing the different civically engaged groups on campus.
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