Michael Reyes uses poetry to address social justice issues

By Marissa LaPorte | 4/3/16 9:32pm

GVL / Luke Holmes - Michael Reyes interacts with the audience in between reciting poems. Michael Reyes performed in the Cook-DeWitt center Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2016

Typically, social inequality isn’t an easy topic for conversation, but through the lens of hip-hop and slam poetry, it can be a little easier to address. Sporting a T-shirt with the text: “Make America Great Again. For Who?” Michael Reyes, a Latino artist originally from Saginaw, Michigan spoke and performed at Grand Valley State University on March 30 to build on the legacy of César E. Chávez.

Reyes said his main goal as a public speaker and social justice advocate is to have an impact on as many people as possible.

“If (students) can take away that they can be agents of change in their community, on their campus, in their church, mosque (or) school, if they can leave inspired that they can do some projects on their own and create their own legacies and be a part of history—that’s important to me,” Reyes said.

Reyes is the grandson of migrant workers and has spent time working in Michigan fields. In this way, Reyes can relate to Chávez, who was an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist and co-founded the National Farm Workers Association.

During his talk, Reyes touched on the farmworker movement, discussed the inequalities that exist in the U.S. and criticized Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by performing his new poem, “Make America Great Again. For Who?”

Salvador Lopez, assistant director at GVSU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, hosted Reyes and facilitated the event. Lopez said the Office of Multicultural Affairs makes sure to highlight Chávez a few times a year with similar keynote events.

“César E. Chávez was a great historical leader, especially in the Latino community,” Lopez said. “It’s important for students to know who Chávez was and what he stood for, similar to other great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The history of civil rights leaders is important, but also what they stood for is important, because some of the issues that they fought for are still happening today.”

As a poet, artist and organizer, Reyes has made it his mission to provide education through poetry and hip-hop. He said he hopes students can connect the legacy of Chávez to the issues the U.S. is facing today.

“All the issues we talk about are interconnected, whether it’s around identity, culture, history (or) oppression,” Reyes said. “All of those things are interconnected from racism, sexism (to) homophobia.”

During and after his performance, Reyes was engaged with the audience and took the time to take selfies with students and answer their questions. Reyes said he values the interactions he has with the audience after a performance because he wants to impact and inspire as many people as possible.

For more information about Reyes and his poetry, visit www.reyespoetry.com.

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