Keynote speakers for Grand Valley's 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week have been announced.
April Reign, creator of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, is slated as the speaker for Monday, January 15; and Bree Newsome, who climbed a flagpole in South Carolina in 2015 to remove a Confederate flag, is the speaker for Wednesday, January 17.
The theme of the week is #WhereDoWeGoFromHere?
Reign is an attorney and writer who lives in Washington, D.C. In 2015, she sent a tweet critical of the 88th Academy Awards ceremony and lack of people of color nominated in major acting and directing categories.
Her #OscarsSoWhite tweet went viral and was a catalyst for a social media movement and caused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to change its membership policies and voting rules.
Reign now has a social media following of more than 100,000, and is listed among the top 15 accounts on #BlackTwitter by the National Journal. She regularly appears at academic institutions, entertainment networks and studios to speak about diversity and inclusion. As part of a collaborative effort among Grand Valley, Grand Rapids Community College and Davenport University, Reign will also give presentations at GRCC, Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids and Davenport's campus during her two-day stay in West Michigan.
Newsome is a filmmaker and artist who was in the national spotlight in 2015 when she climbed a flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina — the state's capital — to lower its Confederate flag. Her action came shortly after the mass shooting of nine African American parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. She was arrested along with another activist and soon #FreeBree was a Twitter trend and $100,000 raised for her $3,000 jail fine.
Her actions stirred the political pot in many communities. The Confederate flag was permanently removed from the statehouse by then-Gov. Nikki Haley and discussion moved across the country considering flags and monuments.
Newsome lives in North Carolina and works as an artist and community organizer. She earned the 2016 NAACP Image Award and was named to the Ebony 100, recognizing her commitment to civil rights.
The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies will host a Common Ground event on January 16. “How Shall We Remember?” will feature Christy S. Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia, and former president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
The event will begin at 7 p.m. at the DeVos Center, Loosemore Auditorium. It is free and open to the public; registration requested at hauensteincenter.org/rsvp or by phone at (616) 331-2770.
History is never static. It is a dynamic, ever-present force in our world. More than 150 years after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, Americans of every background continue to grapple with the enduring legacies of the Civil War. Symbols in our public spaces elicit new questions with each generation, as the values of our communities change over time. What is the relationship of the built environment to our interpretation of challenging histories? Coleman will offer insight into contemporary questions about history, identity, and democracy.
Christy S. Coleman