Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, addresses crowd at GRCC

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 50 years after the landmark Civil Rights Act was finally adopted as the law of the land, hundreds came together at Grand Rapids Community College’s Ford Fieldhouse to remember and celebrate the hard work and sacrifices of civil rights leaders in the past, as well as to push towards greater equality and justice in the present.

The event was more than a remembrance ceremony for a great man. It was a gathering of the Grand Rapids community to support current and future leaders in their endeavors to achieve Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

Sponsored by Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Davenport University, the event drew thousands in a remarkably Christ-centered atmosphere, commemorating not only Dr. King’s activism but also his role as an inspirational pastor.

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch-person George Zimmerman in 2012, was the keynote speaker for the event and spoke on the importance of empowering our nation’s youth to make lasting change.

“What moved me was the fact that so many people of different races showed up in great numbers to hear Trayvon’s mother speak,” sophomore Makara Kungu said.

Speaking of her faith and trust in God’s ability to use an average person such as herself, Fulton demonstrated resiliency and a desire for justice in the face of tragedy. “I am here before you because God has given me the strength,” she explained to the audience.

“We have a broke down justice system where we can shoot now and ask questions later. Some of your children are not free to walk down the street,” she said. “It’s not always about what our children are doing, but what people perceive them to be doing.”

“I can take off my clothes or my earrings, but I cannot take off the color of my skin,” she explained. “It’s got to be about us respecting our differences and not discriminating against anything — race, religion or sexual orientation.”

Frustrated by injustice and motivated by her personal experience, Fulton urged those in attendance to stand for change. “We have to stop being silent about what we do not like,” she said. “It’s up to each and every one of you to run your part of the race.”

Sophomore Makara Kungu was deeply moved by the event. “She reminded us that for such malicious acts to end, change begins with us,” he said. “We’re the future of this country and the difficult conversation of race needs to be had. I’m thankful for Sybrina Fulton’s words.”

Complementary to her message of youth empowerment, a variety of Grand Rapids students were recognized for their accomplishments through the awarding of Martin Luther King Jr. college scholarships to Davenport, Grand Valley and GRCC with the mantra “Inherit the Dream.”

Bodie Bickford, a sixth-grade student, joyfully announced that he “crossed the bridge of Selma!” and was awarded the MLK essay contest. He then read the essay, written about his parents, who he describes as “everyday superheroes.”

In a powerful spoken word performance, a student at GRCC spoke of racial injustice and repeated over and over that “our hospitality has turned into hostility.”

Taylor Cones, a junior at Calvin, attended the event and was impressed by Fulton’s conviction. “What moved me the most was when Ms. Fulton said that people shouldn’t get used to burying their children. It was so powerful yet so true,” she said. “I also appreciated the fact that she didn’t try to seem as if everything is okay even though it has been almost three years since the death of Trayvon. What happened to him was tragic and she still has to live with it.”

“Dr. King had a dream,” said Sybrina Fulton at the end of her speech. “What’s your dream?”