Following a stirring student choral performance of "We Shall Overcome" on Wednesday, organizers announced plans for Philadelphia's 21st annual Martin Luther King Day of Service, and unveiled a 36-foot-long mural depicting the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in 1955.
Organizer Todd Bernstein, president of the nonprofit Global Citizen, which promotes volunteer service, said he hopes Philadelphia will break national records for volunteerism this MLK Day, Jan. 18. He is also founder and director of the annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service.
More than 140,000 volunteers are expected to participate in 1,800 community service projects throughout the region, with the home base Girard College, where organizers, partners, and the city's new mayor gathered for announcements on Wednesday.
At the gathering, Mayor Kenney - after lamenting the state of police-community relations and the high number of young black men behind bars - awarded a citizenship prize to Eastern State Penitentiary.
The prison - a U.S. historic landmark that stopped functioning as a prison in 1971 - won the 18th Harris Wofford Active Citizenship Award in recognition of programming and exhibits on incarceration rates throughout history.
"It might seem odd that a prison would get this award, but the activities and efforts they have made in the community when it comes to reentry, dealing with justice and equity just shouts out for them to be recognized," Kenney said.
Sean Kelley, director of interpretation at Eastern State, said the staff there was "deeply committed to asking our visitors - who are mostly white, middle-class - to ask hard questions about why our criminal justice system looks the way it looks and what do we want for our children." Kelly said a new exhibit related to incarceration numbers will open in May.
Eastern State is one of several partners on the Day of Service.
At Girard, the Mural Arts Program, another partner, unveiled a 36- by 5-foot mural painted by students at six area schools on the theme of the bus boycott.
Jamoni Harris, 17, a senior at Girard, worked on a panel showing a 1950s-era bus morph into a modern-day SEPTA bus. Its destination sign flashes "Love/Justice" as a police boot stomps down on the bus to represent "the iron boot of oppression," Harris said.
Jane Golden, director of the Mural Arts program, called the piece a perfect example of "murals as monuments," living histories of the city.
Kenney agreed. "This is a great country, but it's had some great sins and some great problems and a lot of unfairness, and still today a lot of unfairness," he said.
Later that day, Kenney again spoke about social justice at an interfaith prayer service at the Kroc Center.
He likened the Bible story of the Prodigal Son to the young men and women in prison "who we need to welcome home."
The Day of Service will also include a free concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra at Girard, and a job and opportunity fair from 9 a.m. to noon.
Anyone interested in signing up for day of service projects or the job fair can do so at www.mlkdayofservice.org.
Organizers are also looking for new or gently used business clothing for job seekers. Donations can be dropped off at i-Heart Media in Bala Cynwyd and at the African American Museum in Philadelphia starting Thursday.
Editor's Note: This story was revised to correct Sean Kelley's name.