The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Events develop learning about MLK, future

Courtesy / GVNext

Over the years, Grand Valley State University has organized events for a week of commemoration dedicated to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

The result of a long-standing partnership between Davenport University, Grand Rapids Community College and GVSU, a keynote address will be part of this year’s 38th annual week of commemoration. The free and public event will take place on Monday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. 

The keynote address will be given by speaker and Wake Forest University professor Melissa Harris-Perry.

Harris-Perry obtained her B.A. in English from Wake Forest University and her Ph.D. in political science from Duke University. Harris-Perry currently holds the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University in the Department of Politics and International Affairs, the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Program in Environment and Sustainability. 

In 2012, while teaching at Tulane University, Harris-Perry established the Anna Julia Cooper Center. According to the center’s website, “​​The Anna Julia Cooper Center sustains authentic relationships with partners in academic, advocacy, policy making and media communities to advance justice through intersectional scholarship, engaged pedagogy and intentional action.”

The center aims to welcome students and encourage engagement.

 “The center is basically a hub, (that’s) one way to think of it, for courses (and) for research,” Harris-Perry said. “We support undergraduate student research. We have supported, in the past, post-doctoral fellows. We have lectures (and) we have events.”  

AJCC has also been a part of “The Takeaway,” a podcast hosted by Harris-Perry that discussed issues that arise at the intersections of “gender, race and place.” The center also collaborated with PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays for the series “What Makes Pride.” The series focuses on the work, lives and stories of LGBTQ BIPOC people. 

Her MSNBC show, “Melissa Harris-Perry,” aired from 2012-2016 and she said it was the most diverse political show on air for the years that it ran. 

“We were second to none at recognizing really diverse talent and putting that talent up front. I’m still very proud of our coverage of trans issues and trans people at a time when many other news organizations were still having conversations about issues like gender-affirming surgery and they weren’t even using that language,” Harris-Perry said. “I don’t just talk about, like, ‘what’s your experience as a Black person?’ Like, that’s weird, right? People have expertise in the various issues they have expertise in.”

Harris-Perry said that she hopes her lecture on Jan. 15 will be thought-provoking for students and ask the public to deliberate whether or not they think that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is still relevant today. 

“I don’t think anyone would argue that his work didn’t matter to get us where we are now, but is he still a book we should be assigning and reading in class? Should we still be reflecting on and thinking about Dr. King?” Harris-Perry said. 

Harris-Perry emphasizes that as a teacher, she tries to raise questions rather than give answers so her audience can come up with their own decisions. 

“I come to a personal conclusion that I believe celebrating and thinking about and remembering Dr. King matters, and what I’ll provide in part as my reasoning, is because I think we still get Dr. King so wrong,” Harris-Perry said. “I’ll talk about the way that nonviolent strategies were used with the purpose of demonstrating that the government, in particular these southern state governments, were violent.”

Aaron Turner, director of development at WGVU Public Media and associate facilitator of GVSU’s Institute for Inclusion and Equality, said GVSU’s celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helps to sustain a diverse landscape in higher education. 

“I think it’s just improving the quality of what it means to exist in a space of higher education and the ability to provoke thought on how we continue to treat one another and grow as a people,” Turner said. 

Turner said students should attend Monday’s event because it’s a day in, not a day off. 

“It’s a day that we can challenge ourselves to think about the larger narratives of how we view equity in our own lives and how we look at the equitable treatment of others,” Turner said. “I’m a huge proponent, at an institute of higher learning, that students take the time to learn, listen, apply.” 

Harris-Perry will also be giving a presentation and answering questions on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 10 a.m. at the Kirkhof Center in the Grand River Room. This event is also free and open to the public.

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