On Monday, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Davenport University and Opera Grand Rapids partnered to host a community celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. at Fountain Street Church.
After the audience sang,“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem, the presidents of each institution spoke to the audience about what MLK day means to them and why it was so important for the community to have come together that night to celebrate King’s life.
GVSU President Thomas Haas shared quotes from King and related his movement to many movements now including the “#MeToo” movement dedicated to combat and bring forward accounts of sexual assault and harassment.
In contrast to Haas, Bill Pink of GRCC was loud and passionate during his speech about overcoming differences.
“It’s amazing to have everyone here because that’s what we have to do, friends,” Pink said. “We have to partner together, we have to work together. Now as you all know about Dr. King’s words is that his words reign true in 1968 and it’s amazing how they reign true in 2018. Nothing can stop the community of Grand Rapids and West Michigan, but we must unite because as long as we stay together, it will never happen!”
Pink left the crowd with a final message.
“Let the unity go beyond just this moment and just this hour.”
Davenport President Richard Pappas was the final speaker and delivered a powerful speech. Like Haas, Pappas’s speech featured some of King’s quotes and applied them to modern issues.
While Pappas was reading a few quotes, one of them being, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” numerous “Amen”s and shouts of agreement could be heard throughout the crowd. These praises and positive shouts could be heard throughout the celebration.
After reciting, “we may all have come on different ships, we are in the same boat,” Pappas made reference to recent comments by President Trump.
“So, if you came from Africa, if you came from Australia, if you came from Asia, if you came from Europe, if you came from … Haiti, if you came from any one of these places, if you’re not Native American, you’re an immigrant!”
After the presidents spoke social media activist, April Reign, talked about how her “#OscarsSoWhite” hashtag on Twitter got her into being a social media activist and how social media can help bring communities together and fight racial and social injustice. Reign gave a similar speech earlier that day in GRCC’s Applied Technology Center. Click here to read her story.
Following Reign’s speech, Opera Grand Rapids presented “I Dream” an opera written by Douglas Tappin about King’s life from birth to major lows to major highs, ending with a sad but also somewhat uplifting song.
“It was an amazing performance and the speaker, April had an amazing story,” said Cindy Koitsman, 45, of Grand Rapids. “And the fact that she was older when she quit her job, and started helping and doing what she loved and what she could do for the movement while not being able to travel much was inspiring.”
Although the celebration ended late – around 10:15 p.m., the feeling in the room was light and strong.