Honoring MLK's legacy: April Reign delivers keynote following Silent March
Hundreds of feet crunched through the freshly fallen snow on Grand Valley State University's Allendale Campus, united in silence as a call to remember the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. By taking part in the annual Silent March at GVSU, participants were able to step into his shoes while silently reflecting on the impact his legacy continues to have.
On Monday, Jan. 15, walkers passed by signs marking significant moments in King’s life, such as his work to create the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and significant acts done to remember him, such as the creation of his memorial in Washington, D.C.
“I wanted to expose my kids to some MLK activities,” said Tiesha Shankin, one of the participants. “It is important so they can understand how everything is connected and so they can (start) building the framework to make change in the future.”
This year marks the sixth year that GVSU students have been given the day off of classes to participate in MLK Day events. This year's festivities include a service and solidarity event, a silent rally, keynote speakers and other events later in the week.
“I think it is very important for not just African-American people but the community as a whole to take their education in their own hands and learn more about other people,” said GVSU student Chasity Brooks. “It’s a big problem in America and everywhere else to be able to accept and learn about somebody else. It helps us better as a race to be able to accept and love one another.
"I hope (those who participate in the MLK events) have a better understanding of not just African-American people but other races and how our history is different. ... We’ve all struggled, and there are still problems today that we still have to face.”
As the walk came to an end, participants were welcomed into the Fieldhouse to hear a keynote presentation by April Reign, who discussed the idea of uniting behind a cause and coming to understand the realities of being a minority in 2018.
Reign is most famously known for her creation of the viral Twitter hashtag "#OscarsSoWhite," which trended and started a national conversation about the lack of minorities represented in the famous awards show. In addition, through social media, she has been able to play a role in some of the nation’s most talked-about public protests.
“I was not able to be in Ferguson, but I was able to do my part at home,” Reign told attendees. “I was able to coordinate and communicate with folks that were on the ground and those who were trying to get there. We were able to provide information and resources. ... When the cops were trying to crack down on certain areas and so the protest needed to be moved somewhere else, you could come to my timeline and see 'OK, this is where we're going to (relocate).'”
Reign called on the millennial generation to find a cause and begin making change through social media tools.
“Everyone can play their part,” Reign said. “Regardless of what your issue is, ... you can do something to make the world a better place.”
Reign called upon the words and actions of King and made ties to today's world and modern activism.
“Physical protest is another effective method, as King knew so well,” Reign said. “King was in his 20s when he created the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted more than a year and brought the city to its knees.
"Too often we hear that justice and equality are being done wrong. They’re too loud, they’re too intrusive, but one wonders how the country can applaud King on one hand, whose efforts shut down public transportation for an entire city, but then chastise (Colin) Kaepernick, who is also in his 20s, for his peaceful protest of taking a knee at a football game. It can’t be both.”
Reign also discussed what it means to be an ally. She said she notices that too often, people self-identify as an ally of marginalized communities simply so that they feel better about themselves. Reign said instead, she looks to others and herself to become “accomplices.”
“Ally is passive,” Reign said. “(An) ally is (someone who says), ‘Oh my god, I didn’t realize how hard your life is; let me sit with you and hold your hand,’ which is great for about three minutes, and then what ... are you (as an ally) prepared to do?”
Reign called on the audience members to become active—someone who “uses the privilege that they have to stand in the gap and make it easier for the marginalized community.” Reign said she recognizes that we all have some kind of privilege.
“I have to use my privilege to learn more about what it is that they need, and then I have to go out there and stand with them, if not in front of them,” Reign said.
Again addressing the students in the room, Reign expressed the importance of passing the baton of social justice. Just as King and his followers used the tools available to them, Reign believes we must educate ourselves and use the tools we have today in the modern world, one of them being social media.
“Listen to the old hits, learn from them, talk strategy and outcome because, unfortunately, a whole bunch of stuff hasn’t changed, but then take that knowledge and run,” Reign said.
The event ended with a Q&A session, which allowed the crowd to interact and have a one-on-one conversation with Reign.
To learn more about Reign, follow her on Twitter at @ReignOfApril, or visit her website at www.reignofapril.com.