John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
January 15, 2024
PHILADELPHIA — At a series of events across Philadelphia on Monday, President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) joined other elected officials to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on what would have been the assassinated civil rights leader’s 95th birthday.
State and local lawmakers gathered at Girard College on Monday for what is described as the nation’s largest Day of Service event honoring King’s legacy.
“Dr. King said it pretty well. He said everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” Casey said. “We’re doing that today.”
Biden spent the morning volunteering at Philadelphia food bank Philabundance alongside Mayor Cherelle Parker, stuffing boxes of food for those in need. It’s the third time Biden has volunteered at Philabundance on the King holiday; he visited in 2021 and 2022.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Gov. Josh Shapiro said at Girard College that although the law was passed in 1964, King didn’t think the work was over for justice. Shapiro spoke about King’s visit to Girard College in 1965 and his ongoing quest for service.
“Today, the work falls to each of us,” Shapiro said.
Those in attendance for the event hosted by Global Citizen 365 assembled hygiene kits for survivors of gun violence, that included wound care supplies, shampoo, razors and feminine hygiene items. The kits were to be distributed to local hospitals later on Monday.
Parker spoke about a shooting in the city’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood over the weekend that left two people dead and four others injured. She said that although homicides went down nearly 20% between 2022 and 2023, the city still saw its fourth-highest homicide rate in the last 30 years last year.
“I want you to know that even with that alarming statistic, that we truly embrace the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, we won’t give up hope,” Parker said.
She said there is an all hands-on-deck approach needed to address gun violence and to make Philadelphia the “safest, cleanest, greenest” big city in the nation, a favorite line from her campaign stump speech.
After addressing the crowd, the elected officials joined volunteers to assemble the hygiene kits. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt, Philadelphia City Commissioners Seth Bluestein and Omar Sabir, along with Lauren Cristella, President and CEO of Committee of Seventy, a local non-partisan “good government” organization, also put together 1,000 voter outreach education kits, which included information on what races are on the ballot in 2024.
Across the city a few miles from Girard College, elected officials gathered to celebrate the 39th annual national bell ringing ceremony at the Liberty Bell. Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, the first Black lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania history, was the honorary bell ringer on Monday.
“We’re working together to build that beloved community that Dr. King envisioned, where all of us live together as brothers and sisters,” Davis said. “And here in the birthplace of our democracy in Pennsylvania, we want to make sure that folks continue to have the freedom to chart their own course regardless of what they look like, where they live or who they choose to love. We want to make sure that Pennsylvania remains a beacon of freedom.”
The Philadelphia Martin Luther King, Jr. Association for Nonviolence organizes the annual event, to honor King as a symbol of freedom and justice.
Previous bell ringers include Casey, former U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, former Gov. Ed Rendell, then-General Colin Powell, then-Vice President Al Gore, and civil rights leader Rosa Parks.
State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) lauded King for his willingness to go to communities where he was not wanted, adding that King often affected people in ways they didn’t expect.
“We live upon that legacy today that when we ring this bell, it’s to wake us up,” Williams said. “That we have to go back out and do more work.”
Casey, Shapiro and Davis joined other local elected officials on Monday at the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia’s annual memorial breakfast. Established in 1950, the organization works to prevent racial discrimination against Black lawyers.
Biden’s visit to Philadelphia on Monday is his third appearance in Pennsylvania in 2024. On Jan. 5, he delivered a campaign speech in Montgomery County about his belief that American democracy is on the ballot in November and visited small businesses in the Allentown area to promote his economic agenda on Jan. 12.
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