By Breegan Petruska
On Monday, Jan. 18, Grand Rapids Community College, along with Grand Valley State University and Davenport University, came together virtually to honor and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The 90-minute presentation included many speakers, highlighting the keynote speaker, Yamiche Alcindor, an accomplished journalist who has worked for the New York Times and is currently working as a White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour.
Bobby Springer, the co-chair of the MLK committee at GVSU, started the commemoration by introducing the schools involved and those who took part in putting on the event. He then shared some words from Martin Luther King Jr.
“We have to learn how to love each other. I’m gonna say that one more time,” Springer said. “We have to learn how to love each other because we are all tied together in this journey.”
GRCC President Bill Pink, along with the other participating schools’ presidents, gave opening remarks about Martin Luther King Jr., their schools, and how this year’s presentation looks different due to the pandemic.
“I think about what would MLK have said today in the midst of a pandemic with a virus, and in the midst of what some of us have called a pandemic in terms of social and racial injustices that have been so magnified these last several months,” Pink said. “I think MLK would have done the same thing that many people are doing today – calling out and recognizing what needs to be done, how we need to improve as a nation, as a people, as a country, and as a community.”
Julien Sanders, of Flint, is a current student ambassador and student senator of the president’s office at GVSU. Sanders introduced the speakers throughout the presentation. Along with giving introductions, he shared a slideshow presentation, remembering African American lives recently lost to police brutality.
“As a 22-year-old, African American male and college student, it is unfortunate to witness how easy it is for underrepresented citizens to be portrayed as angry,” said Sanders. “But to tell you the truth, we are hurt and tired of waiting on economic, social, and political justice. In some ways, it feels like the arc of justice that Dr. King spoke about is bending the opposite way.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” -Martin Luther King Jr., Mar. 22, 1964
During her keynote address, Alcindor spoke on current events, her journalism journey, and how Martin Luther King Jr. still leaves his mark on our nation, 53 years after his assassination.
“It is a time such as this that we can look evil dead in the face and say that we will now grapple with some of the worst parts of our society, with white supremacy, with racism, with inequality born from our original sin of slavery, from so much,” said Alcindor. “As I reflect on Martin Luther King’s goals and the time period in which he lived, I can only imagine what he would have said now living through these times because the world is really messed up. We are being forced to grapple with so much.”
She went on to discuss the current state of our nation and the life and death situation we are living in. As it was earlier stated in the presentation, Alcindor compared white supremacy and the inequality we are dealing with as a virus. She then asked the questions: do we want a country at all, do we want a country that is just, and how are we going to improve as a country to end this virus.
When it comes to the suffering happening in our world, there are those of us who move towards it, to help, to shed a light on the wrongdoings, and there are those of us who run away and ignore it. Alcindor shares her own outlet for running towards the injustices and how she tries to shine a light on these problems through journalism.
“Journalism is my calling and is how I have decided to chip away at the small and large injustices still faced by people all over this country simply because of the way they were born and discriminated against, because of who they are. Because they’re Black, Latino, Asian, queer, transgender, a woman of color, and so many other combinations of identities that are under attack in this country.”
It was the death of Emmett Till that inspired Alcindor to become a journalist and to fight against what is wrong in our country. It was seeing the image of his brutally beaten body in a casket that made her want to be on the frontline and report our country’s hard truths. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. looked to his father who was an activist and followed in his steps, Alcindor looks to her mother who was a social worker, who asked the hard questions and helped others.
When Donald Trump took office, Alcindor covered his presidency in interviews with him, his supporters, and during her speech, she shared some of her experiences. She shared her experience with white supremacists supporting Trump, and some of his supporters’ racist comments towards her as a female journalist of color. She shared a memory of asking one of his supporters about healthcare, and all they wanted to discuss was race. She took these experiences that she had and let them shine through her writing.
“It reminded me that even if we want to focus on policy and focus on economic strife, so often the issues at hand are issues of race, and issues of discrimination, and issues of white supremacy that have plagued this nation for so long,” Alcindor said.
As she finished her speech, Alcindor focused on the injustices we have seen in the last year and what we have learned. She discussed the polarization of our country, the lack of healthcare for Latinos and African Americans, and how many lives we have lost to police brutality.
“There is so much work left to do and so much that we need to focus on. There are so many ways that the racism in this country, the discrimination in this country is so crystal clear. We can not be wavering off of our goal to change this country.”
Alcindor finished by thanking Martin Luther King Jr. for the path he left and winning rights for her and so many others. She thanked him for being an inspiration in her life and for love.
“Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” – Martin Luther King Jr., Apr. 16, 1963
Each college participating in this year’s commemoration awarded one or two high school seniors with the Martin Luther King Jr. Inherit the Dream Scholarship. This year, GRCC awarded two scholarships.
The first scholarship was awarded to Azaria Boyd, a senior at Ottawa Hills High School. After she finishes her schooling, Boyd hopes to study medical sciences and become a physician.
“I’m thankful that GRCC gave me the opportunity to show that I will be able to use this scholarship and accomplish a goal and become a doctor,” Boyd said. “Without it, it would have been harder to start off with where I come from. This will be a good start for me to go in the direction that I want to go into.”
The second scholarship was awarded to Yeimi Reyes, a senior at Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy. When finished with her degree, Reyes hopes to become an immigration attorney to fight for those who are voiceless.
“I am really grateful for this scholarship,” said Reyes. “I’m going to just be the voice of people who just can’t be heard in this world.
School-aged students at Grand Rapids Public Schools who took part in a contest held by Warner Norcross + Judd LLP, a law firm based out of Grand Rapids, were also featured in the presentation.
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.” – Martin Luther King Jr., Aug. 28, 1963