SPEA preserves the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.


Keaton Smith

Martin Luther King Day is remembered by many students for its assembly. This year is the first year that it’s been off.

Bailey Vydareny and Lily Hojnacki

The District of East Grand Rapids has made a new change this year in regards to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In years past, students attended school on the holiday, deemed as a day “on” as opposed to a day “off.” However this year a new schedule was put in place and students and staff had the day off.

In previous years, school started and ended as usual with an assembly at some point during the day to recognize the importance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s message, which typically consisted of several speeches featuring student speakers, faculty, and or members from the community.

Students and staff have varying opinions on this change. Some were concerned that having the day off would result in a lack of action or thought for the holiday.

“I don’t really think it’s a good change because I really liked how we celebrated it and celebrated him,” Reese Hartmann ‘21 said. “I thought that was really important because other schools don’t really do that.”

Others believe that a day off is a more respectful, and thoughtful option, giving students the opportunity to celebrate the day as they choose.

“I think it’s a good change because it’s a day off to recognize someone who did something great for our nation,” Trey Bolling ‘21 said.

Students Promoting Equity and Acceptance (SPEA) is a club at East Grand Rapids High School previously known as Champions of Diversity, that plans opportunities and events in which students can partake on and after MLK Day.

“SPEA is formerly known as Champions of Diversity, and Champions of Diversity was a district-wide organization, the reason that we changed the name is just that we’ve not liked the name here at the High School, so this is the year we thought we’d come up with something different,” Science teacher and sponsor of SPEA Jeff Webb said. “This is the first year we’ve had students involved with it. Usually, students aren’t part of the planning process and it’s just faculty, which is part of the reason why we changed the name.”

Webb also explained why there was not an assembly this year. “We’re doing something different this year because we’re out of school on the day. Instead, we’re doing something through Primetime Pioneers,” Webb said. “We’re also asking students to create some sort of creative piece, and try to submit that to be displayed in the hallways as part of remembering who [Martin Luther King Jr.] was, and his legacy in addition to civil rights leaders in general, both past and present.”

These new events for MLK day allow students to become more involved in the holiday.

“My favorite thing we planned is Tuesday’s activity, a writing prompt called ‘speak your truth’ that is meant to allow students to share and read each other’s stories on times they or someone else was silent,” Xanthe Vitaz ‘21, a student member of SPEA, said. “Hopefully, this will provoke thought and start conversations amongst peers families and communities.”

SPEA’s message and purpose was seen in action on MLK Day.

“As a club, many of us went out and volunteered as a way of honoring MLK and giving back to the community. This, in particular, was a very sobering and eye-opening experience, and I’m happy I was able to take part in it,” Vitaz said. “The club is still expanding and growing into what we really are and what our role as a club is. I joined to expand my perception, and help to make people feel safe and accepted regardless of race, gender identity and religious beliefs.”

Although the EGR tradition of making MLK day a day “on” changed this year, the efforts SPEA made has created an impact that they hope will affect the community past Jan. 21.