ATLANTA – Acclaimed poet Richard Blanco will be the keynote speaker at Georgia State University’s 31st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation at 4 p.m. on Jan. 23 in the Student Center Ballroom.

The convocation, which is free and open to the public, pays tribute to King for his work in social justice and human rights.

Blanco, the son of Cuban immigrant parents, was the first Latino, first immigrant, the first openly gay person and the youngest person to be selected as an inaugural poet. He read his poem “One Today” during President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in January 2013.

He has also authored three award-winning collections, which explore cultural identity and homecoming: “City of a Hundred Fires,” “Directions to The Beach of the Dead” and “Looking for The Gulf Motel.”

The theme of this year’s convocation is “Advancing the Dream…Elevating Social Justice.” The event is sponsored by Georgia State Intercultural Relations and supported by student activity fees.

“Richard Blanco represents a new face of ideas and humanity that people can relate to, especially the younger generation,” said Tonya Cook, a program specialist in Intercultural Relations that helped organize the convocation. “Dr. King’s dream was about freedom, social justice and equality for everyone and Mr. Blanco is a good fit for the 31st annual MLK Convocation.”

The 2014 recipients of the Torch of Peace Award and the Hosea Williams Award for Community Activism will be recognized at the MLK Convocation. The Torch of Peace Award honors an exemplary undergraduate and graduate student, faculty, staff, student organization and alumnus who have demonstrated leadership and service in the promotion of intercultural relations. The Hosea Williams Award honors an individual and a community-based organization for their public service.

A reception and book signing will follow the program with music provided by Wild Rice Latin Jazz.

Georgia State’s Student Center is at the corner of Gilmer and Courtland streets. Doors will open for the event at 3 p.m. For more information, contact Intercultural Relations at 404-413-1584.

The 10th Anniversary 2014 MLK Commemorative Series
During the month of January, Intercultural Relations will host the 10th anniversary MLK Commemorative Series scheduled for Wednesday, January 15 – Friday, January 24. This series includes events that support Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of social justice and civil rights for everyone. The series begins with Feed Your Senses: A Dance Tribute in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Rialto Center for the Arts on January 15 at 12 p.m.

The series will conclude with a special Panther Prowl hosted by Spotlight Programs Board, a first time participant for MLK Series. If you have any questions concerning physical access or wish to request disability – related accommodations contact Saretha Pyant, Office of Disability Services at 404-413-1560 (Office), 404-413-1564 (TTY) or via email at For additional information about the MLK series events, contact 404-413-1584, email Tonya Cook.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Torch of Peace Award
In 1998, during the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation, Sampson Zewde entered and presented the Torch of Peace to Georgia State University President, Carl Patton. Zewde was born in Ethiopia and was forced to join the military at the age of 14. Seeing violence firsthand from both sides, he was determined to do something to spread the word about peace.

While on a world bike tour for peace, Mr. Zewde traveled over 34,000 miles and presented torches to advocate for peace along the way. He visited numerous U.S. cities including: Chicago, Washington, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta. Recipients of the original torch include: former United Nations Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Mrs. Winnie Mandela, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ted Turner, and Carl Patton.

Inspired by Mr. Zewde, the University established the Torch of Peace awards to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King. The Torch of Peace awards honor GSU student, staff, faculty, alumni, and student organizations who continue to keep Dr. King’s dream alive. Award winners are committed to the teachings of Dr. King and strive to create a more tolerant, accepting, and socially just world.

Hosea Williams Award for Community Activism
To honor the life and legacy of Hosea Williams, Tonya Cook conceived the idea of creating the Hosea Williams Awards for community activism in 2003. Each year during the MLK Convocation, the Hosea Williams Awards honor one individual and one organization that demonstrate a passion for giving back to the community. Award winners are purposeful risk takers who are courageous in their mission to make the world they live a better place.

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