The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan hosted its annual luncheon at the Lansing Center on Monday, with former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder as the keynote speaker.
Wilder came to prominence in the 1980s before becoming the nation’s first elected black governor in 1990.
“Gov. Wilder has the quintessential American life story,” commission chair Elaine Hardy said in a press release. “He is the proud grandson of slaves and achieved great accomplishments despite living in a state that once denied him, as an African American, admission to its law schools. He has demonstrated what is possible when racial barriers are overcome.”
Grammy award-winning gospel singer Donnie McClurkin and the Dream Orchestra — a regular performer at the luncheons made of local musicians — were the afternoon's musical entertainment.
The commission recently hosted its first annual art contest, in conjunction with their annual essay contest, in which they awarded winners $500, followed by second and third place receiving $350 and $150 respectively.
The commission announced its Mark S. McDaniel Scholarship recipients. Two winners received $5000 and three finalists received $2,500.
“Just being here, it feels good to be around people that look like you,” said Monta Williams, a scholarship winner from Everett High School.
The Commission recognized the contest winners in both events at the luncheon before Wilder spoke to about 1,500 attendants.
Wilder addressed the theme, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” by speaking to the necessity of young people’s involvement in bettering their community. He urged for everyday citizens to become a part of the decision-making process.
“Rather than argue about a piece of pie, get your hands on the knife that cuts the pie,” Wilder said.
Hardy, taking the podium shortly after Wilder spoke, said his speech touched her.
“We can’t measure progress by days. We have to measure progress by milliseconds; we have to measure it on what we’re doing right now,” she said.
In a private interview after the luncheon, Wilder continued to speak to the importance of young people's active involvement in community change.
“Young people are so vital for us to be able to use as a catalyst,” he said.
He offered advice to students looking to cross barriers they may encounter as they create that change.
“Learn. If you’re not taught, read.” Wilder said. “Learn the history of this country. People know so little about the history of this country.
“Be a part of that decision-making process. Be a part of the polity,” he said.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the types of people in the orchestra.