Honoring a legend

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. in Greater Lansing


Each year, on the third Monday in January, the nation celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and Nobel-Prize-winning leader of the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.

For some, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a time to provide acts of service for the communities they live in. For others, it’s a time to celebrate Black culture and history. Above all, though, it’s a day to look back on King’s goals and ideals and recognize that, while we’ve moved a few inches forward since the mid-20th century, we still have a lot of work to do to ensure every person on this Earth is equal in every regard.

In the coming week, Michigan State University and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan are hosting banquets, performances, days of service, scholarship contests and more to honor King’s legacy.

Read on for a full list of events (and a couple of fantastic poems from impassioned community members).

Jan. 12-20: MSU 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration

Thursday, Jan. 12: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Unity Dinner 

Friday, Jan. 13: MLK Student Leadership Conference

Sunday, Jan. 15: Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest

Monday, Jan. 16: MLK Commemorative March

Monday, Jan. 16: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan 2023 MLK Day of Celebration

“I have a right to breathe”
by Kelli Ellworth

Deep as night; mocha in the light; or like me, just bright.
I have a right to breathe.
I stand in a sea of tears, swelling with white caps crashing into my hopes and fears.
I have a right to breathe.
Martin, Rosa, John, Emmett Till
and killed
I have a right to breathe.
Hair thick with coils; grandfather and the one before toiled.
All I have is my bright, mocha, deep as night skin; don’t know my name, heritage, ripped from my kin.
I have a right to breathe.
On slave ships; shackled, stacked high.
to dead and alive; lie in menstrual blood, feces; void and deprived.
I have a right to breathe.
Built your wealth; country and the people’s house; to only be treated like things flushed down in a shouse.
Built our own wealth, self-contained communities with pride; yet you burned, bombed and left us with nothing but to hide.
I have a right to breathe.
Billie Holiday sang southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood on the root. Trees exchanged for knees, knees on our neck; meant for genocide of the American dream, meant to wreck.
I have a right to breathe.
Deep as night; mocha in the light; or like me, just bright.
I have a right to breathe.

Copyright pending

Kelli Ellsworth Etchison is the chief marketing officer and chief diversity officer for LAFCU. She grew up in Pontiac and earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwood University (business administration) and an associate degree from Lansing Community College.

She has received numerous awards and honors for her service, working with organizations such as the Lansing Community College Foundation, the Lansing Promise Foundation and the YMCA of Metropolitan Lansing. She was recently appointed to serve on Gov. Whitmer’s Black Leadership Advisory Council. 

Prior to penning “I have a right to breathe,” Etchison says she had not written poetry in 30 or 40 years. She was moved by the tragic killing of George Floyd in 2020, which left her “grappling with an array of emotions.”

“I’m a Christian, and I believe in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit just began to give me these words, in this poem, to help me grapple with my emotions,” she said. “It really just encapsulates the pain of what I and many other Black people feel in this country.”

Ellsworth, who serves on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of mid-Michigan, said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is much more than just a day off from work or a day of service.

“For me, it’s really about keeping Dr. King’s dream alive. Here we are in 2023, still fighting for some of the same things that he and the late Congressman John Lewis and other civil rights activists fought for — equality for Black people in this country, the right to vote freely without oppression,” she said. “It’s really about how we educate people. These things aren’t necessarily taught in school. How do we educate people, how do we keep the work that he did alive?”


“When MLK Jr. Marched”
by Byron Haskins

When MLK Jr. marched,He knew he would take a bullet for us.
Not the little us of some identifiable
Affinity group,
But the big of us; the united state of us.
He took it for everyone on that bus,
Everyone in the neighborhood:
The hoods and the hidden-under-hoods
the would-be tyrants, the would-be freed
Just like every marcher should mean.

When we honor the marcher King, 
We must think for a moment 
about our collective being
That pride comes before a fall,
That being broken off the body 
Makes you nothing at all
And that a day in a winter month
May get by everyone without meaning anything,
That flying a flag that says, “Me, me, ME”
Is a salutation for just a mirror to see.
That’s not what King Marcher was meaning.

There is no special race of mice and men
That separates us kith from kin, or from she or him
When we call up the memory of the marching King.
When we march on his special day,
We must raise it from a birthday praise,
Elevate from more than a time to go out and play,
Expand it from a set of remembrances in February,
Grow it - from them and us - into one of unity.
This is a march to go on for centuries
So that no bullet can stop it eventually.

Byron Haskins is a jack of all trades, writing essays, short fiction, journalism, poetry and music. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan (psychology) and Western Michigan University (counseling psychology), he worked for the state of Michigan and the federal government. He retired in 2016 and splits his time between Lansing and Montreal, where his wife works.

Haskins became interested in poetry in the third grade when he was introduced to the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar during what was then known as Black History Week. Since then, he has self-published poetry books and has been featured in poetry journals.

Though he has much to say on the subject, in short, Haskins believes Martin Luther King Jr. Day is “a time when we can think about the actual dream that he had — everybody should be looking at each other as equals, as peers, as people involved in the common human effort to survive on this planet.”

“There’s a universal idea of humanity that we have not quite reached. The fact that some people still call people from different ethnic groups different ‘races’ just blows me, because we’re all one race, and Martin Luther King understood that,” he said. “It took people who were oppressed to march and to protest and to make it a political point for everybody else. Unless the most oppressed people find equality, the ones who think they’re the most privileged will never have it either.”




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