Multiple districts — Kelloggsville Middle School eighth-grader Johandy Amoros was excited to participate in the Cesar E. Chavez Social Justice March in Grand Rapids Thursday morning.
“I came here today because Cesar Chavez wasn’t just an ordinary man — he wanted to stand up for farmers,” said Johandy, whose family comes from the Dominican Republic. “He stood up for all Latino people. He stood up for equality.”
Hundreds of students from Kent County schools marched along the street newly named for the late American Labor leader to honor his legacy on what would have been his 96th birthday. Many students hoisted flags representing the countries their families come from and spoke of their respect for Chavez.
They were joined by educators, superintendents, politicians and dignitaries in the trek from the Hispanic Center of West Michigan to The Potter’s House school.
“I like to stand up for people and fight for their rights no matter what race you are … We stand for equality,” said Wyoming High School junior Desteny Murphy.
“It’s about embracing who we are, where we come from — our roots,” added Wyoming High School senior Yvonne Diaz, who also expressed thanks to Chavez for the progress he made in the area of workers’ rights.
A community gathering in the Potter’s House chapel followed the march. It was led by Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Polston; former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell; U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten, who represents the congressional Third District as a Democrat; Potter’s House Superintendent John Booy; and Grand Rapids Community College President Charles Lepper.
Scholten, a former immigration lawyer, pointed out the “gut-wrenching” parallels between the recently exposed child labor violations in Grand Rapids and what Chavez fought against to improve conditions for farm workers.
“This was a multi-system failure, and it will require a multi-system response to correct,” said Scholten of the child labor issue.
Scholten has been vocal about the need for updated legislation concerning child labor and has formed a task force to address the situation.
With camera in hand, Kelloggsville Middle School eighth-grader Gonzalo Rodriguez said he was there to capture images of the march for his school’s student news broadcast.
“It empowers people to be who they are and to not be afraid of their culture, and to show love and support,” Gonzalo said of the event.