The Greater Scranton MLK Commission found a bright side in having to cancel its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day dinner — the chance to host an international speaker for a free online talk.
The organization has moved its annual celebration of MLK Day to Zoom this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, hosting Dr. John Amaechi — a psychologist, former NBA player, international speaker and author — for a live webinar. “The Unarmed Truth: A Conversation with Dr. John Amaechi, OBE” will take place on the holiday, Monday, Jan. 18, at noon. Registration is required and can be done online at safdn.org/mlk-event.
“If what we did was important before the pandemic, it’s important now,” said Cathy Ann Hardaway, commission president. “The issues and the vision and the mission of Martin Luther King Jr. still stand today, and of course with the unrest, particularly with the protests, the Black Lives Matter (movement), we thought it was even more important than ever that we … had a pulse on what was going on and engage with the community.”
Born in the United States but raised in England, Amaechi graduated from Penn State University and played in the NBA. Today, he is a non-executive director of a health care organization and serves as CEO of his company, APS Ltd. He is openly gay and authored the 2007 book “Man in the Middle.”
Amaechi’s program will tie into King’s messages and honor the civil rights activist’s work, said Jennifer Pennington, the commission’s publicist. The event is “about being real about what’s really happening” in the world, the behaviors that result from it all and how people can reframe things in a more positive, mutually respectful and equitable way so they can right the wrongs of society, she added.
“Given the climate in the country and the changes that are being called for and that really need to be made now more than ever, we need to focus on what Dr. King had to say about making changes for social justice and racial equity and doing it peacefully,” Pennington said. “He always talked about taking a stand, making a difference, but not doing it by raising arms — by doing it peacefully and doing it in a loving way and fostering respect.”
Anybody who watches Amaechi’s interviews or YouTube videos will be inspired by the way he talks, Pennington said.
“It’s eye-opening,” she added. “It moves you to want to be better, to be real about yourself and then be your better selves.”
Pennington met Amaechi several years ago when he spoke at University of Scranton. She said his visit had a “tremendous positive impact and reaction.” Pennington recalled how one student approached Amaechi, shook his hand and said, “I read your book. You changed my life.”
“It was such an incredibly heartwarming moment, and I’m like, yes, this is the right guy to bring to campus,” she said.
The commission falls under the umbrella of the Scranton Area Foundation, includes people from an array of local groups and partners with organizations such as U of S and Penn State Scranton. Geisinger provided the group with a grant this year that let it offer the Amaechi program for free.
While the commission canceled in-person programs this year, it sees the online format as a silver lining. Bringing a person of such renown as Amaechi to Scranton would have been much costlier than hosting him online. And it already saw how well online programs can go. Last fall, the commission teamed up with local colleges for a “Talking About Racism” online discussion that brought in more than 500 participants, which Pennington said “is the most we’ve had participating in our events to date.”
“And I am definitely expecting the Amaechi talk to be bigger than that,” she added.
While the online format might not work for some people who typically attend the commission’s dinner, organizers pointed out that it will let people from around the world participate. And the program got a national boost when President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugural committee added it to its list of events happening on the National Day of Service, Jan. 18.
Hardaway wants at least 1,000 people to participate and hopes the message of the talk resonates after it ends. The commission is working with its educational partners to get small groups together later on to discuss the talk.
“We need to act upon what we hear,” Hardaway said.
For those who cannot attend live, a recording of the talk will be available for 90 days afterward, but registration is required. The commission will send a secure link so people can watch it.
“(Amaechi) has a way of helping you to get into someone else’s shoes so you want that empathy connection, and that’s what really kind of drives the point home,” Pennington said. “I guess the takeaway I want people to have is, ‘Wow, I didn’t think of it that way. Now I can kind of understand and know that I can view this differently and do better.’ And it’s important for us especially to teach our children to do better (and) be better.”
Additionally, Penn State Scranton will host its sixth annual MLK Day Celebration on Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. on Zoom. The program, which focuses on the theme “Love and Truth,” is free and open to the public. Chancellor Marwan Wafa will speak, and student leaders from the Multicultural Council will read excerpts of King speeches. Penn State Scranton also will present awards to a member of the campus community and to a local community member or group that demonstrates “a commitment to diversity,” it noted in an announcement.
To register for Penn State’s event, visit scranton.psu.edu/mlk.
Additionally, Black Scranton Project founder Glynis M. Johns will speak about the history of the city’s Black community during a Lackawanna Past Times virtual lecture on Friday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m. The Lackawanna Historical Society will present the talk on Zoom. Call 570-344-3841 or visit lackawannahistory.org for details.
If you go
- What: “The Unarmed Truth: A Conversation with Dr. John Amaechi, OBE”
- When: Monday, Jan. 18, noon
- Where: Zoom
- Details: The program is free, but registration is required; visit safdn.org/mlk-event.
- What: Penn State Scranton’s sixth annual MLK Day Celebration
- When: Monday, Jan. 18, 2 p.m.
- Where: Zoom
- Details: The program is free. Visit scranton.psu.edu/mlk to register.
While many in-person programs will not take place this year, lots have moved online. And the virtual format means you can now attend not just local events but also those happening across the country. Here are a few to add to your plans:
“So You Want to Talk About Race”: Writer Ijeoma Oluo will speak during Spokane Community College’s MLK Day celebration on Thursday, Jan. 14, at 1:30 p.m. The free program will stream live on the college’s YouTube channel.
“MLK: Celebrating His Legacy in Spoken Word and Song”: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Sarasota, Florida, will stream a production that celebrates King’s legacy through excerpts of his speeches and writings along with songs and dancing. It includes a recording of the program made in 2019 along with new footage featuring remarks from WBTT leaders and more. The program will stream for free at westcoastblacktheatre.org from Jan. 16 to 18.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Virtual Program: Purdue University Northwest’s free program focuses on diversity and inclusion includes a keynote address from Karen Bishop Morris, associate professor of English at PNW. The event takes place Jan. 18 from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m. on the university’s YouTube channel.
Virtual MLK Dare to Dream Day: The American Visionary Art Museum, Baltmore, hosts this free online program on Jan. 18 that includes an talk by artist Kyle Yearwood at 11 a.m., a poetry slam and open mic at noon, and a performance by Landis Expandis at 1 p.m. Educational materials are available avam.org. Visit eventbrite.com for more information.
“The Life & Civil Rights Struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”: St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site, New York, will host Professor Kristpopher Burrell of Hostos Community College for this free event on Monday, Jan. 18, at 1 p.m. Burrell will discuss topics related to King’s civil rights work. The program will take place on a shared platform; to register, visit nps.gov/sapa.
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest