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Activist Bree Newsome speaks at Grand Valley State University in light of MLK commemoration

For Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week at Grand Valley State University Bree Newsome, artisit, filmmaker, and activist, presents as a keynote speaker. She discusses personal experiences with civil rights and The Black Lives Movement.
Bree Newsome, American Filmmaker and activist, speaking at the Kirkhof Center of Grand Valley State University

Bree Newsome, American Filmmaker and activist, speaking at the Kirkhof Center of Grand Valley State University /Kendall Polidori

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As the nation honors Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) on Jan. 15, various MLK events commence around the Grand Rapids area. Grand Valley State University presents their very own “Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week," taking place Jan. 15-20. One of the special keynote speakers was Bree Newsome, a speaker, artist, American filmmaker, and civil rights activist from Charlotte, North Carolina. Newsome’s speech was held at the Kirkhof Center Building on the Allendale campus. The event focused on Newsome’s commitment to civil rights with her own experiences, as well as justification of the current and ever changing Movement for Black Lives.  

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” A quote by Martin Luther King Jr. displayed on the screen as Bobby Springer, Director of Pathways to College Office at Grand Valley State University introduces the night’s event. The night began with a performance from The Voices of GVSU in honor of MLK and his practice of faith. The group went on to say that it was “what MLK would want you to hear today.”

After the performance, Jesse Bernal, Vice President for Inclusion and Equity at Grand Valley State University, spoke about the community of the university and its own social injustices. Bernal states “We struggle in our own representations," bringing up issues of the ongoing need for change.

Practicum Graduate Student at Grand Valley State University, Kenya Shakir, takes the honor of introducing the keynote speaker, Bree Newsome. Shakir speaks of Newsome in the fact that she is “a touchstone of empowerment," giving the mic away to Newsome after words explaining her mixture of art talent and activism.

The keynote speaker of the night, Newsome, began with a question that is brought up often throughout her speech, “What does it mean to be conscious?” Before answering the question right away, Newsome went on to explain that we are “in a point in time where there is a shift in consciousness, and we must open ourselves to being challenged in our thoughts and perceptions.” Followed by this, Newsome directed the audience in a group demonstration breathing exercise that relates to the point of consciousness.

Newsome describes her experiences as an activist, through her participation in Mass Moral Monday (march in South Carolina) as well as her action of removing the confederate flag that was hung in Columbia South Carolina. The acts were results of a question that she was said to ask herself, “What am I doing to ensure my rights?”

The Movement for Black Lives was mentioned alongside her focus on personal experiences. Newsome said “I wanted to be part of something greater than myself.” She went on to discuss the event of the Charleston massacre, which had changed her outlook on the movement as a whole, and she took a moment to honor all those lost.  

After much discussion of the power of coming together as citizens and that turmoil is something that should not be feared, Newsome ended her speech with the same question as before “What does it mean to be conscious?” as well as “What does it mean to be human?” While these cannot be specifically determined, Newsome explains that our society is in a time of transformation and promise, setting up a “leaderful” movement.

Newsome received a standing ovation to top off her deliverance for the night. She remained on stage to do a follow up question and answering section, letting the audience participate in the discussion.

The commemoration event reflected the issues in the Black Lives Movement, honoring the late Martin Luther King Jr. in the week of his birthday. A student at Grand Valley State University, Richelle Williams, had some words to say in closing of the event, “In general, there was a lot that I agree with, and a lot that I already knew. There was a lot that I believe people need to hear and be educated on.”

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