FHC students to attend GVSU on their day off in order to honor MLK’s legacy

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FHC students to attend GVSU on their day off in order to honor MLK’s legacy

On Monday, the 20th of January, students at FHC will be granted a day off in honor of remembering Martin Luther King Jr. and all he did. While most students will be in their beds, relaxing on their day off, a group of other students will be traveling to the GVSU campus to celebrate and learn about MLK and the things he worked for.

GVSU has been hosting an MLK Day celebration, or moreover a week celebration, for years. This “day of service and solidarity” consists of a series of different events focused on MLK and the things that he valued. And, for the past four or five years, English and Special Ed teacher Vicki Felton has offered to take a group of FHC students to these events on MLK Day.

“It is important that students learn more [about MLK and the civil rights movement] than just what they are told in the classroom,” Felton said. “I feel like by offering this experience to them, it helps them learn more about this time and become more globally minded.”

While Forest Hills students are all granted the day off, many don’t spend the time to focus on MLK and his accomplishments. Felton’s goal is to bring more attention to this event because it deserves more than it receives.

“I don’t think that we do enough as a whole school to celebrate and honor Dr. King,” Felton said. “I also think that MLK Day celebrates such an important part of our history and honestly our future that despite everyone’s busy schedules, it is something worth paying attention to.”

Tony is a student who relates to Felton’s belief that the day simply doesn’t get enough attention and appreciation.

“I am attending this event because it is important to commemorate such an important person and a movement in American history,” senior Tony DiMeglio said. “So much of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work is under-recognized and not talked about enough.”

The GVSU series of events is a great place to recognize and acknowledge the true meaning of MLK Day and what King was working for, which is exactly why Tony and Felton are eager to attend. 

This trip is especially encouraging for Felton. While she values the recognition of the day, she even further values the students that are willing to give up their day off to celebrate something of this depth and importance.

The Central Park Five are just one example, all-be-it the most famous example, of how America’s criminal justice system works with racial bias both systematically and unconsciously.”

— Tony DiMeglio

“I think it is great how students are excited and willing to give up their holiday off to learn and to experience new experiences,” Felton said. “Some students will stay home and get their much-needed sleep, and that is totally fine, but I just think it is great that some kids are willing to use their day off to experience something they don’t usually get to experience.”

One of Felton’s favorite events that GVSU puts on is the silent march. This march is made across campus, ending at the fieldhouse, and Felton loves seeing all of the people march in honor of MLK.

“I always love the silent march,” Felton said. “It is always such a good time to just contemplate and think back about what MLK has done for our nation. [These thoughts] are sobering, but it is also pretty amazing to think about where we would be if we didn’t have MLK as a leader of our civil rights movement.”

This year, there was an especially large attraction to the events. GVSU offers upcycling, which takes old things and turns them into new things for those in need; a panel discussion, which allows the debate and deliberation of certain civil topics; a free campus lunch; the silent march, which takes place across campus; and several other things. But the most eye-catching event this year is the keynote speaker and presentation.

In past years, keynote speakers have been people like Bree Newsome, a filmmaker, musician, speaker, and activist, and Touré, a writer, music journalist, cultural critic, and TV host. However this year, one of the wrongly accused and convicted from the Central Park Five will speak: Yusef Salaam.

“Hearing Yusef Salaam speak is one of the main reasons I was motivated to attend the GVSU event,” senior Akansha Das said. “Watching part of the recent Netflix documentary made about the rape case these five boys were wrongly accused of and the types of unfair interrogation techniques and the immense mental pressure police put on these men to confess really moved me.”

Just hearing that one of the Central Park Five will be speaking has drawn in many people to attend the event and presentation. The opportunity to listen to what someone who really struggled has to say has grabbed the attention of many.

However, it is not just hearing him speak that excites Felton, Tony, and Akansha, but rather the chance to discuss today’s criminal justice system.

“The Central Park Five are just one example, all-be-it the most famous example, of how America’s criminal justice system works with racial bias both systematically and unconsciously,” Tony said. “[The criminal justice system] has been too quick to convict people of color for crimes they did not commit.”

Felton’s beliefs fall in line with Tony’s. She believes the criminal justice system is very broken, and she finds that the Central Park Five is an example of what is still wrong with the United States.

“Yusef Salaam is a perfect example of what is still wrong within our nation,” Felton said. “The fact the fifteen and fourteen-year-old boys can just be yanked off the street because of the color of their skin and then coerced into a false-confession for something they did not do that DNA evidence proves in court they did not do and sent to prison is just wrong. Their lives were ruined; that’s a problem and we need to fix it.”

The broken criminal justice system is a big piece of this nation and Felton hopes that listening to Salaam speak will open up students’ minds to the reality of what our criminal justice system really looks like.

“I hope that [listening to Salaam speak] gives students, and all people there for that matter, empathy for people who have had experiences in the criminal justice system,” Felton said. “I hope that it motivates and inspires the students I am bringing to be active or to do something about our broken criminal justice system.”

I think it is important that we celebrate MLK Day so that we can look at where we are, how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”

— Vicki Felton

These thoughts are something that many people miss when thinking of MLK Day and what it stands for. Felton finds that it is about the celebration of MLK and everything he accomplished, but it is also about looking at where we are now and acknowledging that there is still a ways to go.

“I think it is important that we celebrate MLK Day so that we can look at where we are, how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go,” Felton said. ‘We need to remember MLK’s legacy; we need to remember everything he worked for. He wasn’t just for racial equality, he was for so much more.”

Felton recognizes that we have come very far, but she also realizes that there is still a lot more of the battle to fight.

Akansha understands and relates to this idea. She notices the fight that is still being fought.

“It’s important to remember that the fight for a fair society in all respects is not over and that many colored individuals in our society are still struggling with the stereotypes placed on them,” Akansha said. “People are judged by the means that they are forced to make money when they are stuck in the cycle of poverty.”

Beyond the debates and celebrations of MLK Day at GVSU, Akansha, Tony, and Felton all have their own reasons for why celebrating and recognizing this day is important. 

For Tony, the importance lies along the lines of honoring MLK.

“I think it is important to honor such a prominent and special person in history,” Tony said.

For Akansha, the value of MLK day resides in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. and the issues he dedicated his life to solving.

“Remembering a man that gave his life for the ideals of social justice is important,” Akansha said. “Also, the sheer amount of change he affected reminds me of the power of small groups of individuals to change society’s mindset and constructs that perpetuate other unjust issues, such as health disparities or women’s rights.”

And for Felton, the appreciation of MLK Day sits in the fact that she would not be where she is now without MLK and the Civil Rights Act.

“If MLK hadn’t done the things that he did,” Felton said, “I wouldn’t be a teacher in this building right now. My life trajectory is very much based on the work that he did. I would not have gone to the high school that I went to, attended GVSU, and taught at FHC if it weren’t for him and the civil rights movement.”