Andy McDonald – Collegiate Staff
Hundreds gathered in the Ford Fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College this morning for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration.
Bert Bleke, chairman of the GRCC Board of Trustees, opened with a speech, emphasizing how important it is to show honor to this day.
“Every year I come to this event and I have noticed that a lot of people just don’t take the time to show up,” Bleke said. “If you have been someone like me who has been coming to this for years, you would understand the importance of this event and how much it means to our community.”
Bleke said the progress we have made today may not be enough when it comes to making decisions.
“We’re here today to talk about a community that is equitable to all, everyone has a fair shot,” Bleke said.“We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go. People need to pay attention to what’s happening to everybody. The question I would ask, is this community being fair to everybody? From employment to job promotions today, I would say no.”
Azizi Jasper, a social worker in Detroit, and facilitator of the Right Track program, performed a rhythmic spoken word piece. Jasper, a spoken word artist, founded “smokin’ SW”, which has been running for 12 years as a spoken word program at Eastown Hookah Lounge.
“Spoken Word is poetry meant to be performed, a mixture of theater and oratory skills,” Jasper said. “Poetry that is meant to be spoken rather than read. It gives the audience a chance to connect and engage with the artist.”
GRCC President Steven Ender said he was happy to be part of the MLK commemoration that has been hosted at GRCC for many years.
“I really found that Grand Rapids as a city does a remarkable job of celebrating Martin Luther King day,” Ender said. “All of the celebrations I have been to do a really good job of pointing out what he stood for and fought against such as poverty and inclusion.”
Ender, born in Richmond, Virginia, moved to Grand Rapids in 2005 and has been participating in MLK celebrations every year since.
“I still do think that it means just as much to people today as it did then in certain spots of the world,” Ender said. “Everyone should take a moment to pause and look at his work on this day that the United States celebrates it.”
The Northview High School choir closed the program with a performance.
Ruth E. Kelly, 2nd Ward Commissioner, said Monday’s program left her with a lot to think about.
“I came away with three things from this event,” Kelly said. “First of all, what Bert Bleke said – we need to do more than attend these events, we need to act. I take that very seriously as a policy maker. Secondly, Azizi (in his performance) was also a call to action, to be intentional. He reminded us that we need to think what we are doing in terms of public safety, building relationships and valuing everyone. Finally, Northview Senior Kennedy Dixon’s performance of ‘We Shall Overcome’ took me back to a moment with my father in what was then Franklin Park (now MLK park) during the civil rights movement, the reason we’re here today”.
Jill Rothwell contributed to this report.