Penn State Altoona freshman India Ellsworth of Washington, D.C., is of black, white and Hawaiian heritage.
"I had a very hard time trying to figure out: 'What part of the [American] culture do I celebrate?'" the psychology major said.
On Monday, Penn State Altoona - in a county with a 1.8 percent black population and situated in the "heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania," which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. listed in his 1963 civil rights speech at the Lincoln Memorial as a place to "Let freedom ring" - helped her celebrate her black heritage.
A read-in of African-American literature at the campus included poems dating back to the 1700s recited by students including Ellsworth.
But of all the literature that was read, Penn State Altoona professor and keynote speaker Joe Petrulionis lectured on what he believed was the most important literary piece that has yet to be written - an epic for all Americans containing details of heroic actions that are important to the culture.
The nonviolent sit-ins and the Children's Crusade of 1963 are a crucial part of that epic, which he urged students in the audience to begin telling.
"Our identities come from the stories we tell ourselves," said Petrulionis, who teaches philosophy and history.
He said what it means to be American has changed over time to include many people of many creeds and colors who have built the nation. Americans need an epic to encompass all of them, he said.
"We need a story that encompasses all Americans that we can be proud of. When we do write that story, it will be imperative to include the civil rights movement," he said.
Monday's read-in from morning to evening marked Penn State Altoona's 24th annual African-American read-in sponsored by the Black Caucus of National Council of Teachers of English.
"The reason for this is to promote literacy and to emphasize marginalized literature that has not been taught in schools," said read-in organizer and associate English professor Megan Simpson.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.