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Fisk Jubilee Singers and Chuck D of Public Enemy celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with GRCC

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Photo by Clare Kolenda
The Fisk Jubilee Singers perform songs commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Photo by Clare Kolenda
The Fisk Jubilee Singers performed songs commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

By Clare Kolenda

Grand Rapids Community College hosted the 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Program Monday with participants from Grand Valley State University, and Davenport University.

The evening’s events were organized to inspire community involvement and put an emphasis on the importance of education. President Steven Ender addressed the crowd of students, faculty members, and residents of the local community noting that, “Observances such as this one are crucial to the mission at all three of our universities,” he said referring to GRCC, GVSU and Davenport University. “In countless ways, including the observances on our campus today, our students and employees show their serious commitment to serving our community.”

The evening continued with performances from the MLK Community Choir and publicly acclaimed Fisk Jubilee Singers. The community choir is comprised of individuals from local schools and churches and embodied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of the power of equality and the beauty of diversity. The Fisk Jubliee Singers followed with their performance of several songs in acapella.

“The Jubilee Singers are going to regale you,” said H. James Williams, the President of Fisk University, and former dean of Seidman school of business at GVSU. The performance did not disappoint. The rich tones of the singers blended harmoniously while they sang songs steeped with rich history and drama.

These performances were followed by a reading of the winning essay in the MLK Essay Contest. Winner Sofe Blomeling, from Riverside Middle School, read her essay to the audience, her small voice carrying over the microphone, her words reminding the audience that heroes do not need a cape or tights. Just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to inspire the world, so can all individuals, she said.

Chuck D, Public Enemy cofounder and rap artist was the night’s keynote speaker. Chuck D. shared a little about his own experience as a student, and his struggles to achieve his bachelor’s degree which involved having to go back to seven different professors and ask if he may retake their classes after receiving incompletes from each one of them.

After that rocky start, however, he went on to become a top student and earn his degree. “My proudest achievement is getting my degree in 1984. It gave me vision to see the world and not to be greedy with it all,” he said.

In his charismatic and slightly sarcastic tone, he encouraged students, young and old, to not settle for low grades or a poor GPA. To not rely on technology to keep them informed.

“What you got up here,” he said pointing to his head, “You can give to the world.”

Photo by Clare Kolenda
Chuck D, cofounder of Public Enemy, warns students away from reliance on technology.

Chuck D. cautioned students about becoming too reliant on technology.

“You’re in trouble if your smartphone is smarter than you. You gotta control it, because if you don’t it’s going to control you.”

Throughout his speech, Chuck D. kept his message humble and relatable, empowering young people and telling them to not use their youth as an excuse, but to rise above and continue the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. had started 51 years ago. Yet his message extended farther than just bettering themselves, and pushed those in attendance to better the community by supporting local arts and focusing on what is happening in their own towns instead of focusing on what popular culture proclaims to be important.

The celebration held on Monday did not just commemorate the legacy of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It helped his legacy live on in the form of community support for the musical performances of children and adults and a standing ovation for little Sofe Blomeling as she read her winning essay. Those choosing to take Chuck D.’s words to heart can continue to be the change that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of 51 years ago.