By Sean P. Mulhall – Editor-in-Chief
Although the temperature was near freezing Monday morning, hundreds of people including Grand Rapids Community College faculty, staff and students marched through downtown Grand Rapids in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Although the activities were planned as a celebration of the life of King, recent events and racial tensions around the nation provided a reason for several more somber moments throughout the day.
A ceremony that included two choral performances, a choreographed dance and an essay winning sixth grader followed the mostly silent march through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. The group started on the corner of Lyon Street and Bostwick Avenue, made their way to Monroe Avenue, up Monroe Center and Division Avenue, before turning on Fountain Street and cutting across the Bostwick Commons to the Ford Fieldhouse.
Antonio Taylor, a member of Alpha Beta Omega, expressed his thoughts on the relevance of the symbolism behind the march.
“I was actually waiting on a moment like this,” Taylor said. “I’m always looking for things to do in the community … marching or something that can represent us in a whole different light. Something that’s symbolic, something that actually means something. So if it means we just have to walk in a circle to prove a point or relay a message, I’m all for it.”
After the group had a chance to warm up with hot cocoa, Bert Bleke, GRCC Board of Trustee’s Chairman, welcomed and thanked the group for participating. After excusing an under-the-weather president Steven Ender, Bleke shared a few thoughts about the meaning of Martin Luther King Day and the legacy of such an enigmatic figure.
“Why are we here?” Bleke asked. “I don’t think … (Of the) millions and millions and millions of Americans, in the history of this country, any have left their mark and have made such an incredible impact on our society as Dr. King … It’s more than appropriate that we as a society take some time to honor his memory but also, through Dr. King, honor all those individuals that have worked very hard to try and make this a better place … We have a lot of work to do yet as a society. A lot of things have been happening the last several months that I think beckon all of us to pay attention to what is going on and to make sure we all contribute to a society that is open and fair to everybody.”
Bleke then introduced the mistress of ceremonies, Jaedah Pickens, GRCC Black Student Union president. Pickens had the task of introducing the groups, speakers and performers including the Northview Varsity Voices, a choir group from Northview High School, who sang the national anthem and Deavondre Jordan, a choreographer and GRCC graduate.
After a question and answer segment led by Spectrum Theatre Manager Michelle Urbane, Rodney Martin of Warner Norcross & Judd presented the first prize award of the law firm’s 10th annual Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. Martin invited Bodie Bickford, a sixth grader at the Center for Economicology, to read his winning essay, in to the crowd. Bodie’s inspiring essay was centered on everyday heroes and received a standing ovation.
The ceremony concluded with Pickens’ call to action asking those in attendance to follow in King’s memory of non-violence, before introducing Steven Barton and his concert choir, who sang a beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice.”
“Due to recent unrest in this country, I hope we can all honor Dr. King by following in his footsteps of non-violence,” Pickens said.