by Elyse Wild
“I have a dream”— words that resonate through our collective history with a breathtaking profundity. Spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963, in Washington D.C. among a quarter of a million civil rights supporters, these words helped to change the life of America.
Through a partnership among Grand Valley State University, Davenport University, Grand Rapids Community College and Opera Grand Rapids, on Jan. 15, Grand Rapids is invited to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King for the 32nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration at Fountain Street Church. The celebration commemorates 55 years since the March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his famous speech and 50 years following the iconic leader’s assassination.
Attendees will be treated to an address by media activist, attorney and writer April Reign. In 2015, Reign used her social media presence to amplify her voice and spark a long-overdue conversation about the lack of representation in Hollywood with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. This simple action lead to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science making unprecedented changes to its membership and voting rules. Past guest speakers include human rights activist and Dr. King’s oldest son Martin Luther King III, and Sabrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, whose young death in 2012 brought national attention to race relations. MLK Celebration Chair Bobby J. Springer says the organizers strive to bring in compelling speakers who resonate with current events and carry powerful messages.
“We are always looking for dynamic people to come and be a part of this special day,” Springer expressed. “We really focused in on April because she is a person who took action, and her action caught attention and started change and conversation.”
“I am always hoping that people will look within and ask themselves, ‘Am I doing my part?’” —Bobby J. Springer, MLK Celebration Chair
The event will culminate in the premiere of “I DREAM,” a semi-staged opera production that grants an intimate look at the man behind the Civil Rights Movement. Composer Douglas Tappin found inspiration to write the production after pouring over hundreds of books about and by Dr. King and interviewing those who knew him personally and advocated with him.
Performed by Opera Grand Rapids’ decorated cast of performers to music that exquisitely weaves opera with blues, jazz and gospel-tinged rhythms, the highly-anticipated production allows viewers a glimpse of never-before-seen moments of Dr. King’s life.
“To be able to see the message of Dr. King in a different way is incredible,” Springer commented. “It’s a moment for all of us to remember for a lifetime. To be able to offer this performance at no charge is incredible.”
Springer emphasizes that it is important and empowering for people to recognize Dr. King as a human being to find greatness within themselves. True to the event’s rally cry — “Remember! Celebrate! Act!”— the program aims to prompt participants to reflect and ask, “What can I do?” The answer to which is different for all of us.
“I am always hoping that people will look within and ask themselves, ‘Am I doing my part?’ in this journey to make the space in this community one where all are welcome and get a fair opportunity. During MLK Day, people open up and listen—that is really important.”
The celebration kicks off at 6:00 p.m., with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. Participants are encouraged to arrive early, as seating is available on a first come basis.
What: 32nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Celebration
Where: Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain St. N.E.
When: Jan. 15, 6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m., doors open at 5:30 p.m.