Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist II speaks at Groves' annual Dr. King Jr. celebration

Photos by Nicole Bastian

Newly elected Lieutenant governor of Michigan, Garlin Gilchrist II, opens Groves' annual Dr. King Day celebration on January 16

The first African American to serve as lieutenant governor of Michigan, Garlin Gilchrist II, also served as the honored guest speaker at Groves’ annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 16, invited by English teacher Amy Voigt.

When Voigt taught Ellen Smith in the early 1990’s, little did Voigt know she would be reaching out to Ellen’s future husband, Garlin Gilchrist II, to be the honored speaker for this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. day assembly. Months after Gilchrist II agreed, he became Michigan’s current Lieutenant Governor and brought even more experience and prestige to the annual Dr. King celebration.

Voigt remained close to Ellen long after Ellen graduated from Thompson Middle School in Southfield, where Voigt taught before she came to Groves.

“Ellen babysat my kids for many years and then went on to become a talented teacher and leader. She has always been such an interesting and intelligent person that I just wanted to keep in touch with her,” Voigt said.

Voigt’s connections helped her bring together many political figures to share Groves’ celebration of Dr. King’s legacy. Along with Gilchrist, state senator and alumnus Jeremy Moss, state senator Rosemary Bayer, and representative Kyra Harris-Bolden attended the assembly.

Voigt and the rest of the MLK day committee chose Gilchrist as the honored guest speaker last May, when he was the the founding Executive Director of the Center for Social Media Responsibility at the University of Michigan. The theme of this year’s annual celebration--“What Would Martin Tweet?”-- and Gilchrist's work in social media fit the committee's goals: to help students celebrate Dr. King’s legacy while exploring the power of social media in their lives, their relationships, and their impact on the world.

Students, staff, and Gilchrist all spoke to the power of language and the platforms for communication, discussing how the interconnectedness of social media can either create or solve injustice.

Groves’ principal Dr. Embekka Roberson emphasized the power of words by asking those who attended what might happen if someone had recorded all of the words they said the day before and turned what they said into a book.

Groves Prinicipal Dr. Embekka Roberson asks students, "How will you use the power of your words?"

Principal Dr. Embekka Roberson discusses the power of Dr. King's words, Gilchrist II work on social media reform, and student voices to carry on his mission to fight injustice at the Dr. King assembly on January 16.

“Dr. King is often remembered by his famous, ‘I have A Dream’ speech, the words of which are timeless and describe injustices, such as police brutality, segregation, lack of education, and poverty. Injustices that we are still fighting. By the power of his words, he was able to evoke action and change. Words have power,” Dr. Roberson said. “My question is how do you use your words? Do you use your words to uplift others and to speak out when you see injustices? If someone captured everything that you said yesterday and they put it in a book, and we could read it, what would your words say about you? About your character? Are you kind? Do you use your words to help others? Are your words respectful?”

Dr. Roberson went on to point out how silence in the face of injustice can be just as powerful and also damaging.

“Dr. King said it best in two separate quotes, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’ and ‘There comes a time when silence is betrayal.’ When we are silent, we give a voice to the person who is using bigoted or hateful language. When you listen and don’t challenge, the person believes he or she can continue to make the same comments,” Dr. Roberson said.

Dr. Roberson applauded students who already used their roles at Groves and in the community to speak out against injustice and urged all students to see that they had both a voice and various platforms for that voice to be heard.

“Dr. King used his platform to spread a message of love, inclusivity, and respect for others, similar to our Groves Way. Where is your voice heard? For me, it’s my job. I use opportunities like this or when I speak with teachers and students to spread that message. For you, it might be the Gay Straight Alliance, Groves Student Council, African-Americans Changing Tomorrow, or another club in which you are involved. It might be at your synagogue, your church. Your voice can be heard on your sports team, with your siblings, or maybe with your friends at lunchtime,” Dr. Roberson said. “As Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.' How will you use the power of your words?”

Gilchrist asked similar questions of those attending the assembly and discussed the motives that fuel divisive social media users, contrasting their objectives to King’s morals.

“Some people use social media to foster relationships and create connections, while others use it for more dangerous intentions. They want to divide, defect, distract and destroy. And some just use it to say whatever is on their mind. And I’m thinking of someone in particular who lives about a 9 hour drive from here, ” Gilchrist said. “I believe Dr. King would tweet to get people to take action. There's a difference between saying outrageous things to get a reaction and saying things to provoke an action.”

Gilchrist described how today's political climate makes it essential to adopt an empathetic attitude towards different opinions, just as King’s legacy entails, and why asking “What Martin Would Tweet?” is an important question for today.

“One of the beautiful things about social media is that enables us to step into other people’s experience on a given platform, and I believe Dr. King would have embraced that, would have taken advantage of that opportunity to hear and understand and experience other people’s experience because in doing so it would help shape and sharpen his world, shape and sharpen the arguments he made for justice, shape and sharpen his role in the discussion around public policy and programs of the events and issues of the days that he lived and worked and served,” Gilchrist said. “In order for us to have a full impact on society, we have to understand and immerse ourselves in that society. Dr. King was a person that would go and meet people wherever they were, regardless of their identity,” Gilchrist said. “He knew what it was like to be out on the front line.”

Groves choir, led by senior Kennedy Giles, sings "We Shall Overcome" during the Dr. King assembly on January 16.

Gilchrist encouraged Groves students to not just use their words to empower others but to pay attention to the words of others, the words of those they followed on social media. Gilchrist believes Dr. King would have used Twitter to follow those from all beliefs and especially those whose views ran counter to his. Dr. King, Gilchrist reminded the audience, sought to make connections and encourage empathy. Gilchrist followed King’s example of empathy in his personal life.

“During my campaign, it was really important to make sure that, even if a person wasn’t a member of my political party and had differing opinions, to know they are still a citizen of Michigan,” Gilchrist said. “When I was in the upper peninsula city of Sault Ste. Marie with a small population, I had to make sure that I understood the issues that those people were facing, despite the fact that they weren’t as commonly acknowledged.”

Community service is an essential aspect of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, and Gilchrist himself helped improve Detroit by providing the city technology and educating Detroiters on computer skills.

“I’ve invested lots of time with the people of Detroit and communities, helping them gain access to technology. I was a computer science major in college, so it’s another one of my duties,” Gilchrist said. “A big part of that is teaching people how to use computers and technological skills.”

Senator Rosemary Bayer talked to the Scriptor backstage and echoed Gilchrist’s beliefs, discussing how Martin Luther King day should be a holiday dedicated to walking in someone else’s shoes. As a senator, Bayer said she relies on clear and compassionate communication to understand her constituents’ needs while pursuing King’s example of engaging multiple viewpoints.

Senator Rosemary Bayer, back stage with editor Nikki Barnas, highlights the new challenges technology brings to communication.

Senator Rosemary Bayer talks to the Scriptor backstage after the assembly on January 16 and echoes Gilchrist’s beliefs that Dr. King would have used social media to unite those on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

“The biggest thing that Martin Luther King has done for us is highlight the ability to communicate. Communication is a huge challenge today, as people are not able to understand each other and really make a real connection,” Bayer said. “They aren’t able to see the other person’s side and step in their shoes. I refer to it as framing: put yourself in my shoes, walk some steps, know what it feels like, and be able to express that to others. It’s the greatest service you can do.”

State representative Kyra Harris-Bolden also spoke backstage about the importance of knowing the community and giving back to others. Much of what Harris-Bolden emphasized aligns with the core values listed in the Groves Way: “Give back to our community, Respect yourself and others, keep an Open mind, Value your environment, Empower yourself and others, and Support and have empathy for others.”

Harris-Bolden said she participates in community service on Martin Luther King day and related how this was an important part of her childhood.

“My mom always said, ‘MLK day is not a day off; it’s a day on.’ She would force me to go to the MLK Peace Walk in Southfield when I was 6-years-old,” Harris-Bolden said. “Obviously, initially, I didn’t have the mental capacity then to understand the significance of why we were walking, but, as I got older, I started to understand the symbolism of what the walk meant. The people that struggled fought very hard for the civil rights I now enjoy.”

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