In the recognition of Black History Month, East Lansing hosted Civil Rights Activist Joanne Bland to talk about her experience at Hannah Community Center on Feb. 11. The event was titled “An Evening with Joanne Bland.”
Throughout the event, Bland shared stories of being born and raised in Alabama and the racial discrimination she faced during her lifetime. One of the most impactful story was her participation in the Selma march. The march was led by Martin Luther King Jr. and led to the passage of Voting Right Act of 1965.
“My grandmother had lived in the Midwest,” Bland said. “So she had some freedoms we didn’t have in the segregated South. We started talking to the women in our community about those freedoms. ... They recognized early on that we can vote. We can change some of those laws that were unfair to us.”
Bland began her civil rights activism in the early years of the 1960s. By the time she was 11 years old, she had been arrested 13 times. She was one of the seven black students to integrate A.G. Parish High School.
“Our curriculum should‘ve been inclusive instead of exclusive,” Bland said. “Our children start with white European history and they end with white European history.”
Bland emphasized starting with the education and making sure that all children feel self-worth when they sit in the classroom.
Before Bland took the stage, Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens gave a welcoming speech where he said the city of East Lansing has been a leader in the region for promoting ideas on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We are very proudly the first city in the nation to pass LGBTQ discrimination protections,” Stephens said. “We support sanctuaries to our immigrant citizens which is more important in today’s day and age.”
Stephens also recalled the formal apology by the city of East Lansing in 2018 for its history of racial discrimination. He said the city recognizes there that is much more to do.
Chairperson for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan Elaine Hardy said she was deeply honored to have had the opportunity to bring Bland to the community.
“I believe that she has been well received every place that she’s been in Michigan and I think that her story about Selma marches is significant and relevant and should be told,” Hardy said.
The event was hosted by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan, Michigan State University Federal Credit Union and the East Lansing Human Relations Commission.