The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to inspire people in Grand Rapids and around the world. Our local MLK Day celebrations grew from a spark lit by Rev. David May in the late 1980s. May noticed that a few local churches were recognizing Dr. King during services, but there was no broad community event. Working with pastors and community members, he organized celebrations in 1987 and 1988 that were held at Messiah Missionary and New Hope Baptist churches. Despite fears from some that attendance would be low, the events were so popular that people had to be turned away both years due to fire code limits.
May envisioned an MLK celebration that would “serve as a catalyst for coalition building.” In 1989, the event moved downtown, to the Ford Fieldhouse, and has been hosted by Grand Rapids Community College ever since. The MLK celebrations are just one piece of the work May has done, holding out a bold vision of a community facing racism and eradicating it. In a 1989 interview, May noted that “it takes Black and white people working together. Dr. King said that if we don’t live together as brothers, we perish as fools.”
This story can be found in the January 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here.