Before immersing themselves in volunteer projects as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, students from five Penn State campuses met at the Greater Allegheny campus and spent time with Alumnus Jeff Ballou, news editor for the Americas at Al Jazeera Media Network’s English language channel. Drawing upon his own Penn State experience, Ballou challenged the students to learn from King’s life and to become agents of change.
“I want to focus on an aspect of King’s life which was inspired by a Penn State class that I took as an undergraduate on the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, taught by Thomas Poole,” said Ballou. “One of the things he [Poole] kept drilling into our heads in that course is that you cannot freeze Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. There’s so much more to him in his growth and in his arc than that [one day].”
Through the collection of King’s writings and speeches, individuals came to learn of his notion of the "Beloved Community," a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one's fellow human beings. The notion of the Beloved Community spoke to audience member Anthony B. Mitchell, associate teaching professor of African and African American studies and co-director of the Stewart and Jones Scholar Leadership Program, offered at Greater Allegheny.
“Sadly, today, the promise of racial and gender equality, women’s rights, and social justice remains elusive for millions of Americans,” said Mitchell. “In democratic societies, it takes people of courage, consciousness, and action like Dr. King to lead revolutionary social change.”
Ballou recalled the privilege of interviewing the civil rights advocate and late congressman Elijah Cummings before his death. “He told me, ‘We are better than this.' We are better than this."
Ballou urged the students to use their Penn State degrees to make things better, to enter the ranks of doctors, legislators, caretakers and lawyers and make a difference in the world. “Become the folks who will challenge cancer, challenge Alzheimer's, challenge poverty, and all the things that ail us,” said Ballou. “Let’s go conquer these things together.
Ballou’s visit to the Greater Allegheny campus was a homecoming, as he started his Penn State experience at the McKeesport campus in 1985.
“When I was here, this building (Student Community Center) was very different," said Ballou. He noted that one thing that had not changed was the welcomed feeling he and other students, especially African American students received on the campus. Today, Greater Allegheny is recognized as one of the more diverse Penn State campuses. Thirty-nine percent of the student body is from underrepresented groups, an increase of 2% from the previous year.