Braving the cold to march for justice

Ryan Jarvi

The cold winter weather didn’t stop some 200 supporters from taking part in the Martin Luther King Day Silent March on Monday afternoon.

“It was bitter, bitter cold,” said Bobby Springer, associate director of multicultural affairs and co-chair of the MLK executive planning committee. “It was one of the coldest ever that I have marched in, but it was definitely well worth it.”

Springer said he was satisfied with the amount of support, but it might not have been as large as the last couple of years. This year marked the first year classes were not held on MLK Day. When classes were held in the past, students would usually join the march after getting out of class, Springer said. He also considered that the weather may have contributed to lower numbers this year.

“Just like in the past, people were there, engaged and ready to participate,” he said. “It took something to walk outside. That’s the reason why I applaud all those who participated. You had to really be about the cause.”

Grand Rapids Community College was scheduled to hold a march the same day, but cancelled due to weather.

“It was worth it because this was nothing compared to what they went through, back when they were marching,” Springer said speaking of the marches held by civil rights leaders in the past. “They were marching for a different life. They were making a statement that things needed to change for us, and we’re reflecting on that moment during our march.”

The silent march that began at Zumberge Library and continued throughout campus was an opportunity for those who participated to reflect on a number of things.

“For me it’s a reminder of the sacrifice that Dr. King and others made for me to have the opportunity that I have today,” Springer said. “To be on a campus like Grand Valley, having some of the opportunities that I have.”

Kathleen Underwood, co-chair of the MLK executive planning committee and director of women and gender studies, said the march was symbolic of the university’s mission of inclusion and equity.

“Having done it for 10 years or more, I really look forward to it as a time to reinvigorate my sense of social justice and to share that 20 minutes with like-minded people,” Underwood said.

But getting those like-minded people together on a day of cancelled classes was a challenge for committee members.

“When we realized in the summer that we weren’t going to have a population that was already here to go on the march, we had to create a reason for people to come to campus,” Underwood said. “So that’s why we planned a full day of activities, and it seems to me it was an overwhelming success.”

GVSU has had collaborative speakers with GRCC and Davenport University since 2000, but the program continues to grow. Three years ago, GVSU brought an additional speaker into the mix and this year added an award recognizing the services of a community member or organization.

“Our goal eventually is to have events each day, but it takes time to build that kind of set of events that many campuses do,” Underwood said.

In previous years when classes were in session, students did not always have the option to attend MLK Day events due to strict attendance policies of some professors and not wanting to miss covered material.

“I think having the classes off accomplished two things,” Underwood said. “One, it permitted students who have always wanted to participate the opportunity to do so. The second is this is a national holiday—like Labor Day, like the Fourth of July—and we need to be valuing it and honoring it, and it shouldn’t be a test case about whether people come out.”

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