large crowd in chairs in Grand River Room, speaker Eddie Glaude Jr at podium in front

MLK keynote speaker: 'The trouble is us, we are serpents in the garden'

Americans are so divided and divisive, Eddie Glaude Jr. said on the first day of Grand Valley's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Commemoration Week, their "elbows rub but their hearts are apart."

Glaude, a distinguished university professor and chair of African American Studies at Princeton University, spoke January 17 in the Kirkhof Center to both in-person and virtual audiences. 

Also a political commentator and author, Glaude drew on his expertise of author and civil rights activist James Baldwin throughout much of his presentation. Glaude said much of what Baldwin wrote and spoke about in the 1960s and ’70s remains true today: "America is changing all the time without really changing at all."

Glaude said some Americans have a distorted view of liberty and hold onto what they perceive as ideals from the country's founders. "The time has come for us to examine ourselves," he said.

Eddie Glaude Jr. at podium with hands raised to audience; he is wearing a dark suit and blue framed glasses
Eddie Glaude Jr. gives a keynote presentation on January 17 in the Kirkhof Center to kick off MLK Commemoration Week on campus.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

America's racial divide runs deep, he said, adding there are many reasons enslaved people were once counted as three-fifths of a man. "To the Christians, if they were not considered men, then no crime was committed," Glaude said.

King wanted Americans to agree that racism exists, as it would be the only way to grow, Glaude said. 

"The trouble is on us. We are the serpents in the garden," he said. "Going towards other folk would make me a better person. Right now, our elbows rub but our hearts are apart."

This is not easy work, Glaude said, relaying what President Philomena V. Mantella said in her remarks before his presentation. Mantella said she is concerned about recent political efforts in Ottawa County to dismantle structures and supports for equity and inclusion.

President Philomena V. Mantella at the podium in a dark jacket and blue shirt
President Philomena V. Mantella gives remarks at the January 17 MLK presentation in the Kirkhof Center.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts
Eddie Glaude Jr. poses with young middle school students after his presentation
Eddie Glaude Jr. stands for a photo with students from Jenison Public Schools. Students from the junior high and senior high attended the event.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Grand Valley will continue to be a model for inclusion and equity, Mantella said, and, "We will make space for all at GVSU to engage with us on this journey." 

"When others retreat, we must act on our own call for social justice and create an empowered experience for all learners," she said. 

Glaude's most recent book is "Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own." 

Events on the GVSU campus to commemorate and reflect on King's legacy continue throughout the week; view the calendar for details.

Co-chairs of the GVSU MLK executive planning committee are pictured in front of a red wall, at left, Sherry Johnson, associate professor of English, and Bobby Springer, associate director of Veterans Upward Bound.
Co-chairs of the GVSU MLK executive planning committee are pictured, at left, Sherry Johnson, associate professor of English, and Bobby Springer, associate director of Veterans Upward Bound.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts


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