Marching in King’s Footsteps for Justice and Kindness

Lowell students and staff display the banner that was carried at the front of the walk

On the day that people across America honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., students at area schools did their part to carry on his ideals. Here are just two examples of students putting his teachings to work.

Rockford students have been learning about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

North Rockford Middle School

Pam Stuckey used Martin Luther King Jr. Day to teach sixth-graders you’re never too young to do something about injustice.

“This is something you can do,” Stuckey told her class before 300 students from North Rockford Middle School marched silently to Rockford City Hall Monday to mark the holiday. “And it’s something that can be done for free. Martin Luther King Jr.’s walk didn’t cost any money.”

Earlier, each student had been assigned to write on an index card what injustice they’d like to help end as middle schoolers. Gossiping, bullying and swearing were a few of the problems they named as issues they’d like to take on.

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Student Charlotte Tranquileno said her goal was to stop racial slurs and derogatory terms. “I see it a lot, some think it’s cool to say,” she said. “I don’t think it is.”

After reaching City Hall, students gave their intention cards one-by-one to Rockford City Manager Thad Beard.

“My challenge for you today is to take responsibility for your actions,” Beard said. “Treat people nicely. Treat them fairly. And that will lead to social justice.”

Students also wrote their intentions on their calendars, to remind them every day to do something about what they felt was unjust. On Fridays, Stuckey will ask the class for stories about how they’ve done.

A boy walking alone in the march said he had written bullying as what he’d like to see end. Asked if he’d ever been bullied, he said yes. Asked if he thought the march activities would help, he shrugged his shoulders and quietly said, “I don’t know.”

But marching and talking about problems was how Martin Luther King Jr. started, so maybe it will.

Cherry Creek Elementary, Lowell Area Schools

Fourth-grader Dhuol Mach thinks showing kindness and respect should include being “a donator.” To him, that means “buy someone some food, or take someone on vacation.”

Classmate Chloe Vangorp said she likes quotes, so she chose to put one on a poster. It reads “One day, or Day One: you Decide.”

Lowell fourth-grader Brooke Shellenbarger in the lunchroom before the walk

“I know this one is kind of hard to understand,” Chloe explained. “I think when you are born you have to decide if you’re going to be a change maker or a change watcher.”

Dhuol, Chloe and the entire student body at Cherry Creek made those pledges for change via posters they carried during the school’s first ever MLK Day walk.

The two-block walk to the middle school and back capped off a week of activities coordinated by teachers Kim Lum, Brook Beaufait, Lisa Camfferman and Katie Smith. The effort was aimed at teaching the school’s second- through fifth-graders about social justice and how to work toward positive change, Camfferman explained.

Last week students discussed King, his achievements and why there’s a national holiday in honor of his memory. The school library made books and videos available about the civil rights leader.

The walk also kicked off a “change4Change” coin drive to benefit The Children’s Healing Center that will run through Jan. 26.

Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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