Activities throughout the day, Monday, Jan. 20, offered Ferris State University students,
faculty and staff, and Big Rapids community members opportunities to reflect on the
life and impact of Martin Luther King in the 34th annual celebration of the national
Students filed into the Center for Leadership, Activities and Career Services in the morning to participate in Operation Safe Sidewalks, an MLK Day of Service project.
Freshmen Sean Prusko of Grand Rapids, an Information Security and Intelligence student, was joined by Steffen Hembruch, a Pre-Pharmacy student from Swartz Creek, in clearing sidewalks in neighborhoods near campus.
“As students in Honors College, this was a way to work on our service hours requirement,” Hembruch said. “There were certainly areas where we could make a difference after the snows that came through last weekend.”
“We were able to interact with some of the people whose properties we worked on. They were very thankful we came out,” Prusko said. “It was an honor to see the result of pursuing good works.”
Faculty and staff participated in the In-Service program, organized by the Diversity and Inclusion Office. The theme selected for presenters was, “What does Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. mean to you?” The event concluded with Michelle Johnson, an administrative assistant to the Associate Provost of Academic Operations, receiving the Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Award. Those gathered concluded the in-service with a rendition of the spiritual, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
More than 200 students, faculty and staff members and participants from the Big Rapids community gathered in the Rankin Atrium to participate in the annual campus Freedom March. Among the students in the procession was Jahlyn Wynns, a freshman in Business-Marketing from Pontiac.
“I believe that the march is a way to make good use of the Martin Luther King holiday,” Wynns said. “It is important that everyone remember and consider the legacy of Dr. King.”
On the marchers’ return to the University Center, several Ferris administrators made remarks to thank those who turned out and to reflect on the celebration’s meaning.
“I thank all of you for having these important conversations and taking up our activities, daring to make a difference,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Janine Ward-Roof. “Our graduates leave with the charge to make a difference in their communities, and we welcome you to be confident and make your mark.”
Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion David Pilgrim shaped his remarks in reflection on the 23rd Psalm.
“Martin Luther King Jr. walked in the valley of the shadow of death for 14 years,” Pilgrim said. “His life was taken, and in full understanding of that, he lived the life that we celebrate today.”
“We are glad that the Big Rapids community joins us in celebrating this day,” said Ferris President David Eisler. “Dr. King was a great teacher, and in his later years, he told an audience in Philadelphia about the importance of living life with a solid blueprint. The key considerations were to believe in your own dignity, and to be determined to achieve excellence.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration concluded with the annual Student Tribute, which included a presentation from a featured guest, spoken word artist Mike Ellison. In his remarks, the Detroit native challenged the audience by combining themes of economic inequality and individual freedom.
“He would tell people to be careful with their own resources, by saying ‘Don’t spend money that you don’t have, for things that you don’t need, to try and impress people that you don’t know,’” Ellison said. “He also said ‘Anyone can be great because anyone is able to serve.’”
A continuing aspect of the MLK Celebration is the Tunnel of Oppression, a video series reflecting on social media, immigration and gender inequality, with hourly presentations offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in Room 217 of the University Center through Thursday, Jan. 23.