MLK Day events bring senator, civil rights leader to GR

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shakes his fist during a speech in Selma, Ala., Feb. 12, 1965. King was engaged in a battle with Sheriff Jim Clark over voting rights and voter registration in Selma.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Several events were held in Grand Rapids to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

For the first time, the Opera Grand Rapids gave a free public performance of “I Dream”  at the Fountain Street Church. “I Dream” is based on the last 36 hours of King’s life. Civil rights activist April Reign, who launched the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, spoke to visitors ahead of the performance.

“I think that western Michigan is just a microcosm of the rest of the country, right? So you first need to concentrate on the issues that are affecting you, whether that be unemployment, segregation, education and then move on to helping the rest of the country as a whole,” Reign told 24 Hour News 8 ahead of the show.

Reign also encouraged the community to focus on its youngest members.

“As the song goes, I believe the children are our future. And so what we need to do, I believe is give children more agency, especially with the advent of social media. Kids are learning more at a faster pace, and so we need to make sure that we’re keeping up them, monitoring what they’re doing but actually really listening to what they’re telling us about what’s going on in their world,” she said.

The Urban League of West Michigan also celebrated the 18th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast at DeVos Place. The event focused on Dr. King’s message of love and recognized West Michigan community leaders who were working to keep that message alive.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow was among those who attended. She says now more than ever, we need to work towards the equality that Dr. King fought for.

“Today is an example, bringing together people in the community. The majority of people who would prefer to focus on love and justice and compassion rather than hatred and bigotry and racism. It will take good people stepping up and saying, ‘This isn’t who we are. This is not who we are in Michigan, not who we are in our country.’ And it’s going to take that activism to really push on what is a minority opinion, but one that’s very destructive,” she said.

Stabenow spoke at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Kalamazoo Sunday as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. event.