GVSU announces speakers for 2018 MLK week

GVL / Luke Holmes - Kevin Powell speaks in the Fieldhouse Arena on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

GVL / Luke Holmes – Kevin Powell speaks in the Fieldhouse Arena on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Devin Dely

Each January, members of the Grand Valley State University community attend events for Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week, a celebration of the life of King and his work in the civil rights movement. The keynote speakers for January 2018 are April Reign and Bree Newsome, both of whom made waves in 2015 for their efforts to initiate social change. 

Bobby Springer, director of the new Pathways to College Office at GVSU, has been working closely with Grand Rapids Community College and Davenport University to host these speakers. According to Springer, Reign and Newsome are in high demand across the country. Newsome first caught his attention two years ago when she made national headlines after climbing to the top of a flagpole to remove a Confederate flag in Columbia, South Carolina. 

“We wanted her (Newsome) last year as the Monday speaker, but she felt she needed to stay home and be present in her own community,” Springer said. “Someone—another school—had already picked her up for this year, but when I talked to her contact person, we were able to get her for the Wednesday event.” 

Reign, who created the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in response to the lack of people of color represented at the 88th Academy Awards, will be speaking Monday, Jan. 15, at the Fieldhouse. 

“We keyed in on April because of the hashtag,” Springer said. “She’s an individual making a statement about something we needed to take a look at. It doesn’t have to take a specific kind of person to make a difference like that. It can be anyone. She saw where she could make a difference and did just that.” 

Springer has worked in the GVSU Office of Multicultural Affairs for more than 17 years, consistently devoting his efforts to bettering the Commemoration Week each year.

“I’ve been doing the MLK program since I started here, and I’ve had the opportunity to be in front of some dynamic people over the years,” Springer said. “This has always been one of my favorite times of the year.” 

In addition to the keynote presentations, GVSU will hold other events throughout the week, including a Shabbat dinner, a day of service and solidarity, and the traditional silent march. 

“Silent March has been going on since way before I got here,” Springer said. “It’s a callback to the time when there were civil rights marches. We make this one silent so people can reflect and think. Speakers on campus are always very taken aback by how amazing the experience is. They know we’ll have a march, but they’re not prepared for the way we do it.”

To many people, the third Monday in January might be just another day off to kick back and not worry about school. Springer said the importance of this day of remembrance can often get lost amid the relaxation but that GVSU’s shift in recent years to a full week of events has helped fix that. 

“Multiple meaningful events throughout the week give more people an opportunity to participate and be educated,” Springer said. “It’s a good thing because we all need to grow. The goal is for us not to stay the same. These events make such a thing possible.” 

As the week approaches, he hopes that students will be in attendance in great numbers, whether that means attending the keynote speeches or another event on campus. 

“I want to encourage others to reflect on Dr. King’s dream and what he has done,” Springer said. “I hope the events will encourage others to reflect on his dream. I want to continue the legacy for which he gave his life and take this opportunity to ask ourselves the question of what we’ve done to help it along.”