By Gary Manier – A&E/Features Editor
More than 200 people gathered in Grand Rapids Community College’s Ford Fieldhouse for the 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration Monday night.
The program featured noted journalist and culture critic, Touré, who opened with a joke about apple juice and took a rather light-hearted approach to a very serious issue, racism. Touré also spoke about black success versus white success in America.
“The pervasive idea that black people are less intelligent, the silent downgrading of our intellectual potential is the hurdle you’ll have to deal with most,” Touré said in his speech. “The core battle is dealing with the expectation that you are less intelligent, but of course the technical term for that is ‘b.s.’”
Touré spoke about racism in the workplace and personal life. He spoke of John Henry and “code switching.”
“I’m not talking about erasing yourself, I’m talking about performing your personality for the audience in front of you,” Touré said.
Later, Touré spoke about systemic racism and being optimistic, always doing what you have to do to be successful.
“You can’t damage us, you don’t affect us, we don’t care what you have to say, we know who we are and that’s all we care about.”
Touré ended his lecture with a story about an interview he did with Kanye West and how being a fan of yourself can be positive motivation.
Chris Arnold, the director of GRCC’s Diversity Learning Center, said the take away from the event was to come together as a community.
“We want to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and more importantly come together as a community to talk about issues that we can work on together as a team, collaboratively,” Arnold said.
Rev. Timothy Mark Harris, pastor of the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church opened the celebration with a prayer.
The night was filled with singing and interpretive dancing with performances by the East Grand Rapids High School Pioneer String Orchestra, His Steps Dance Company and MLK Adult Choir.
The Presidents of Davenport University, Grand Valley State University and the Provost of GRCC were all present. The commemoration is a collaborative effort between the three educational institutions.
“Look at the racism against African Americans, Hispanics, Latinos. We can do better,” said Richard Pappas, president of Davenport University. “Look at the sexism, there’s not equal pay for women across the country. We can do better. Look at the homophobia occurring around the world, people just want to live their lives. It’s about respect.”
Children that placed in the MLK Essay Contest were acknowledged, and Twanyea Smith, a sixth grader from Riverside Middle school, read his winning essay aloud to the audience.
“I have to give you credit, because even though the world is not a perfect place to be in, you put a giant footstep toward equality in the world,” Smith said in his essay, which was a letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. “People should keep remembering what you did for our country. You always knew that the most dangerous condition is ignorance.”
Since 1990, GRCC has awarded more than $50,000 in (the) Inherit the Dream Scholarships to over 50 students.
This year the scholarship was awarded to students planning to attend GRCC, GVSU and Davenport University.
- Jeremiah Walton of Clintondale High School, who plans to attend Davenport University with a major in Management.
- LaShaun William of Innovation Central High School, who plans to attend Davenport University with a major in Management.
- Shekinah L. Guyton of Grand Rapids University Prep Academy, who plans to attend Grand Rapids Community College, with a degree in the medical field.
- Jisel Ochoa-Mendoza of Lee High School, who plans to attend Grand Rapids Community College with a major in Immigration Law.
- Antonio Martinez of Union High School, who plans to attend Grand Valley State University with a major in Mechanical Engineering.
- Dong Nguyen of Ottawa Hill High School, who plans to attend Grand Valley State University with a major in Pre-Med.
After the scholarships were presented to the students, Touré took the stage.
The evening was concluded with a musical finale by the MLK Community Choir.
After the program, Touré said he was honored to be a part of the Martin Luther King celebration and stressed that it is a very big deal.
“We are dealing with racism, it’s a very difficult thing and here are some things to help you deal with it,” he said. “I can believe in myself and I can perform my personality in a way that gets me the maximum chance to succeed.”
Janelle Carter, 49 of Grand Rapids, said everyone coming together for a common cause is great, and that learning more about other cultures helps people to be more sensitive towards other races and cultures.
“At this event we had people of all different kinds of ethnic backgrounds up there – Hispanic, black, white, everyone just came together for a common cause,” Carter said. “It was excellent. I think if you get your kids involved in activities other than in their own communities, I think it would help them learn and grow more about other cultures, and help them to be sensitive to other cultures.”
Mary Griggs, president of the Black Student Union at GRCC, said she was happy to see the young people on stage set to perform.
“This is history,” said Griggs, 36, about the children being the future of our society. “They get to hear about the past … and then (know) that they are the future.”