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Keynote speaker urges MLK audience to create community

  • Jeff Johnson gives an address in the Kirkhof Center
  • Voices of GVSU
  • Jennifer Stewart receives the Faculty and Staff Service Award.
  • Paul Doyle accepts the Community Service Award, given to the Urban Core Collective.

Posted on January 22, 2014

The second keynote speaker during Grand Valley's commemoration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. energized the audience by making them feel uncomfortable.

Jeff Johnson, author and political commentator, gave a presentation January 22 in the Kirkhof Center. Johnson is a regular contributor to MSNBC and the executive editor of He chairs the Jeff Johnson Institute for Urban Development, an institution committed to recruiting and developing 80,000 African American male teachers.

Johnson called the months of January and February a period of time “when it’s acceptable to be black on campus,” referring to MLK events and Black History Month.

“We get class credit for these events, and it’s an interesting time, but it’s not necessarily reality,” he said.

Johnson pushed students and leaders to move beyond making a diverse campus to making one that is a community. He joked about college brochures that showcase diverse groups of students laughing, “and no one knows what they’re laughing about.”

“When you come to campus you seldom see that brochure or hear that conversation,” he said.

He suggested getting to a community meant first challenging each other to do what’s uncomfortable. “You need the ability to step outside the box to create relationships,” he said. “It’s the small interactions that have the biggest impact.”

Prior to his presentation, two awards were presented, recognizing a community organization and faculty member for their commitment to diversity.

Jennifer Stewart, associate professor of sociology, received the first Faculty and Staff Service Award. Stewart established and continues to serve as advisor for Act on Racism.

The Urban Core Collective received the Community Service Award. The organization is a collaboration of many community outreach networks, including the Urban League, Baxter Community Center, Hispanic Center of West Michigan and others.

MLK Commemoration Week continues Thursday, January 23, with a discussion, “The Continuing Trial of Trayvon Martin: Profiling and Privilege,” led by Louis Moore, assistant professor of history. Events conclude Saturday, January 25, with a Day of Service, coordinated by the Community Service Learning Center.

For details on both events, visit

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