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GRCC and area colleges team up to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday at Fountain Street Church

Every year on the third Monday of January we remember the extraordinary life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (Central Press/Getty Images/TNS)

By Jack Hervela

The 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration will feature renowned orator and University of Illinois at Chicago professor David Stovall.

Stovall teaches African American Studies and Criminology, Law and Justice while his studies investigate Critical Race Theory, the relationship between housing and education and the intersection of race, place and school.

His presentation plans to touch on the message of King and where that message stands today.

“The main piece is actually reconceptualizing Dr. King’s work,” Stovall said. “The point that I’m trying to make is that we fantasize the message of Dr. King and don’t look at his work for what he really called into question and what was this idea of poverty, race and militarism.”

In rethinking the message of King, Stovall notes truly understanding his mission.

“His commitment was also a mission to justice and to understand that people were suffering and hurting,” Stovall said. “When we talk about that in terms of things like a living wage, or when we talk about the importance of ending military occupations, those things are in the common trope, thought about as things that bring people a sense of safety, security or ownership. Yet King was saying that’s not necessarily what it brings, right? It actually brings certain groups of people pain and suffering. We have to pay attention to that.”

Alongside understanding King’s mission, Stovall plans to touch on where efforts inspired by King stand today.

“I’ll talk about what that means in the current day, and his challenge to folks who are organizing and working around issues of justice in the current moment,” Stovall said.

Stovall notes that while Grand Rapids and many urban centers around the country do a fair amount in schools and respective communities to engage and represent different cultures, curriculums still discredit many cultures influential in the building of our nation, something Stovall sees as an issue.

“I’m always interested to hear when people use the term ‘founding fathers,’ right, and this is always an interesting thing to me because that’s a very subjective term in terms of founding fathers to whom?” Stovall said. “All because of an assumption that there was nobody before this. So, this thing really, around putting into context that there have been people who have been excluded in this place called America, in the western hemisphere, in the Continental U.S., and when we don’t include, teach, those stories, we go right back to this kind of myth-making that does folks a disservice.”

With many social issues, namely race relations, still prevalent under new guises as they were in King’s time, Stovall finds importance in truly understanding.

“This moment just reminds us of really seeing this country in many ways for what it has always been,” Stovall said. “So now, the question becomes to ourselves, have we been fooling ourselves? Or is there something there, something we need to pay attention to, and I think when you reflect on Dr. King, he was saying there’s something else there. And if we dare to pay attention to it, our work will look different.”

As for what Stovall hopes attendees can take away, he wants folks to be open and realize there is more than one voice.

“The main thing to understand is there is a different narrative, the work can be different and there have been folks throughout history, and the current day, who are challenging us to rethink what is happening and what can be done,” he said.

The celebration begins at 6 p.m. with doors opening at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 21 at Fountain Street Church. Admission is free to all.

In conjunction with the three colleges involved, Stovall will also make appearances on each separate campus:

  • 9:30 a.m. presentation, Jan. 21 at GRCC Applied Technical Auditorium
  • 1:30 p.m., Jan. 21 MLK Silent March and Celebration at Grand Valley State University in Zumberge Hall/Fieldhouse Arena
  • Noon, Jan. 22 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Silent March at Davenport University in Sneden Auditorium

To watch Dr. Stovall speak on matters of race, equality and equal education in preparation for his Monday presentation, head here.


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