January 17, 2011 | Andrew Steiner

Students hang out at the annual MLK Young Leaders Weekend.

Posters of Martin Luther King Jr. are displayed in classrooms around the world, recordings of his speeches are sampled into pop songs, and today, on the twenty-fifth annual celebration of his birth, a painting of his vision for America may be found on the homepage of Google, the most trafficked website in the world.

Calvin College began its observance of Martin Luther King , Jr. Day with a commemorative march that started at the Chapel and wound its way around campus. Over the weekend, another event took place on campus to honor the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Calvin’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Young Leaders Weekend.

The nominees arrive

Fifteen Grand Rapids public high school students arrived on campus Friday night to begin a weekend of reflection on Dr. King’s work. The students, nominated by mentors in their churches and schools, brought with them issues of concern to their communities: topics ranging from the rights of special-needs students to peer pressure.

Together with five Calvin students, they researched the Civil Rights Movement in order to apply its legacy to these issues. The goal, said assistant director of pre-college programs Tasha Paul-Cruz, is for the students to “come up with a preliminary plan of action to take back to their school or back to their church… Leaders come in all forms. Some are more quiet. We want to make them feel more confident to become ‘change agents.’”

On Friday night, Calvin student leaders and residence hall hosts introduced themselves. They came from places as far afield as California, Indonesia and Detroit and were studying subjects like Nursing, Biology and English. On this diverse group of students, Paul-Cruz said, “You can have a great program, but without great people, it doesn’t matter. We have great people.”

Debating cultural leaders

Like so many Calvin pursuits, the young leaders weekend began with a round of icebreaker games. During a round of musical chairs, students debated the merits of historical and contemporary figures from Sitting Bull to Beyoncé. The name “Kanye West,” in particular, drew passionate opinions from visiting students.

Michael, a student at Grand Rapids Central High School, said, “You can bear good fruit, but that doesn’t mean [you’re] a godly man.”

Eboni, a student at Forest Hills Northern, replied, “Even if he’s doing good things for selfish reasons, he’s still having a positive impact.”

Paul-Cruz sees the MLK Young Leaders Weekend, now in its eighth year, as one way in which Calvin College realizes Dr. King’s vision of answering social injustice with unity in Christ. She believes that vision is echoed in Calvin’s own “From Every Nation” document.

“Hopefully this is just one layer of things happening within the community to strengthen the ultimate message that we’re all one in Christ. Pre-college’s activities are part of being a good neighbor,” Paul-Cruz said. She views the young leaders weekend as “encouragement in the battle,” one of many opportunities to work out the kingdom of heaven in Grand Rapids.

Eboni, a leader in the multi-cultural club at Forest Hills Northern, said that what she found most inspiring about Dr. King was his willingness to make a personal sacrifice for the cause of justice. “He played a huge role in changing how people thought by his sacrifice, but there’s still so much to do,” she said.

Associate director of pre-college programs Tasha Paul-Cruz

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