Lake Michigan College hosts 23rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

BENTON TOWNSHIP — The life and legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has long served as a reminder of the power a single person’s voice has to enact change.

Community members embraced this message as they gathered together at Lake Michigan College’s Grand Upton hall for the 23rd annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

Those who attended ate breakfast and listened to speeches and musical performances put on by All God’s Children Choir, Kenneth Jackson and De’Leeshia Hall. The event’s theme, “The Cost of Silence,” is based on a famed King quote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Rufus Glasper, CEO of the League of Innovation, an international nonprofit, was selected as the keynote speaker. Glasper has family from the Berrien County area and has visited throughout his life. He addressed the crowd Monday and told them about the discrimination he faced while attending Luther College in Iowa in 1971. Glasper said he was one of 49 African American students on a campus of more than 2,000. A dedicated student, Glasper said he enrolled in a Religion of the Western World class, where the teacher refused to give him anything but a C. When he confronted the teacher about the grades, he was told that “his background suggested he could not understand the subject matter.”

Glasper said he soon discovered that other African American students were getting similar treatment in classes and they banded together to address the concerns with the college administration by initiating a discussion with administrators at the Black Student Union.

“That day, we decided that not just our future, but the future of others was in our hands,” Glasper said.

When the discussion did not seem like it would amount to much and college administrators got up to leave the meeting, students stood in solidarity, blocking the door. After much more deliberation, Glasper said officials agreed to let students choose pass/fail grades instead in the classes where they had been discriminated against.

Glasper cited the incident at the college as one of many. After his speech, he said that those with a voice have the power to enact the same change for the injustices they witness.

“You don’t speak out just to be speaking,” Glapser said. “If it is a social issue that matters, then you need to write or be part of an organization or speak more. It is any and all of the above. If you are silent, people will never know. Most times it takes more than one voice.”

Others who addressed the crowd Sunday spoke to the theme, encouraging the community members to remember the cost of silence. U.S. Rep Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) was among those to speak.

“We are here to celebrate the birthday of a great American,” Upton said. “While one man violently and tragically took Dr. King from us years ago, he did not silence his teachings, nor his spirit.”

King’s legacy and work continues to shape the lives of Americans today, he said.

Lake Michigan College students Jamia Timmons and Dyesha Moore were also recognized. Timmons was selected to read to the audience after earning first place in the MLK 2018 essay contest. Moore was the first runner-up.

LMC President Trevor Kubatzke, who helped to introduce the speakers Monday, said he hoped that those who attended felt encouraged to start a discussion.

“It was a great event,” Kubatzke said. “You could see the community [coming together] even on a snowy morning. Every year, we hope that this is not just a day, but an event that will spark conversation throughout the year.”

Monday’s event is the first in a week-long series of events that will celebrate the work of King. A full schedule of events is available online at lakemichigancollege.edu.

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