Littisha Bates speaks from behind a podium, gestering with her hands

MLK week presenter gives audience action steps to make changes

Grand Valley graduate Littisha Bates admittedly struggled to find hope during her presentation highlighting the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bates, who teaches and serves as an administrator at the University of Cincinnati, gave a hybrid presentation January 19, speaking in the Kirkhof Center. She graduated from Grand Valley in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in sociology. While on campus, Bates was a TRIO McNair Scholar and later earned a doctoral degree from Arizona State University.

She said Grand Valley's King Commemoration Week theme, #EquityinEducation, is a far cry from reality, adding that King himself wrote about the same issue as a student at Morehouse College.

"As a student, Dr. King wrote about the purpose of education and said, 'Education in this country is not fulfilling its purpose,'" Bates said.

She listed persistent socioeconomic factors that impact funding and graduation rates in American school systems and wondered how people can call education a "great equalizer."

Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for federal TRIO programs, introduces Bates from behind a podium in the Kirkhof Center.
Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for federal TRIO programs, introduces Bates in the Kirkhof Center.
Valerie Hendrickson
Bobby Springer stands behind a podium, he is wearing a mask
Bobby Springer is the associate director of Veterans Upward Bound and co-chair of the MLK planning committee.
Valerie Hendrickson

"The phrase 'schools as an equalizer' is only an adage that people tout in political arenas and social circles," she said. "Schools are not equal themselves. I would argue the public school system is not broken but, rather, operating in the manner it was set up to operate."

Bates did provide action steps, saying people can either choose to "sit and lament or get up and do something."

"How can you change the system? Vision yourself as a piece of the puzzle to fix the inequities around you," she said. "Learn for yourself and dialogue with others around you. Also vote, vote and vote, and write to people in Congress and your community.

"Education may not be a great equalizer now, but it can be."

At the University of Cincinnati, Bates is the inaugural associate dean for inclusive excellence and community partnerships, and an associate professor of sociology, with affiliation with the Africana Studies Department.

Events will continue Thursday and Saturday on campus as part of King Commemoration Week; view details online at gvsu.edu/mlk.