GV to ‘Shake the World’ this week

Marcus Reynolds

Marcus Reynolds

Marcus J. Reynolds

11Many may question the relevance of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the 21st century, but Grand Valley State University will celebrate the holiday by hosting a weeklong series of events called “Shake the World.” Events begin today and run through Jan. 24.

The theme, “Shake the World,” speaks to the need for us as a community, locally and globally, to change.

“We don’t want to stay the same. In order to change, we have to move-shake ourselves as individuals and institutions to do better,” said Bobby Springer, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and co-chair of the MLK program.

GVSU’s commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day will extend beyond the traditional vacation day away from school to include more than a week of activities and programs.

Students have already participated in events, such as the Day of Service on Saturday, coordinated by the Community Service Learning Center.

GVSU will host Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Louis Armstrong Theater. Well known for his commentary on popular culture and African-American society, the author and radio host will discuss “What’s Next? Martin Luther King Jr. in the 21st Century.”

And “What’s Next?” is a question some people are trying to answer.

Springer stands at the center of the debate on whether GVSU should close in honor of the holiday. The university has established a committee to work on the possibility of a day off.

“If we’re closed, I don’t want people to have a day off and not engage in learning activities that celebrate the work of Martin Luther King and others,” Springer said. “It’s going to take all of us to make the world a place that we want it to be. If we can do enough of the little things, we can make big things happen.”

Although GVSU is one of three Michigan public universities that does not close for the holiday, some, including the university president, see relevance in continuing the King’s vision.

GVSU President Thomas Haas said King’s message is more important today than ever as GVSU seeks to educate for an inclusive society.

“I think that his dream continues to inspire and must be shared with others, which will create a better world for our children and their children’s children,” Haas said. “His message is one of respect, community and optimism.”

To promote King’s vision, much work still needs to be done. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate is at 9.4 percent. According to BLS statistics for African-Americans, the unemployment rate is at 15.8 percent, more than six percent higher than the national average.

The poor economic conditions that affect GVSU students entering the labor force are part of the vision that King included in his all-encompassing statement: “equality for all.”

Springer said, however, there is still room for advancement where all people can achieve the American Dream.

Talib El Amin, a GVSU Alumnus, is one person fighting for that advancement. El Amin has worked as a community organizer for more than 40 years, during which time he has stood up to bigotry and racism and fought for justice for all. El Amin said King’s dream does not only apply to African-Americans, but it is kept alive by the efforts of all students across the country.

“Study history, for it is the best teacher,” El Amin said. “Students need to understand that King worked hard to uplift all people.”

For now, the answer remains elusive as GVSU deliberates on whether the MLK celebration is best served as a day on or a day off. This year, though, the week of events provides a peek back in history and a nod to the future of equal rights.

[email protected]