Break the Silence:

Keynote Speaker David Stovall Calls GVSU Students to Action

David Stovall addressing the crowd, during his speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

ALLENDALE, MI — On Monday, Jan. 21st, Grand Valley State University hosted David Stovall, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, as the keynote speaker for Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week, running Jan. 21st through the 28th. The week includes events such as a commemorative silent march and five different presentations throughout the week on GVSU’s Allendale and Pew campuses.

Following the silent march across the Allendale campus, students, faculty, and members of the public gathered inside of the GVSU Fieldhouse for Stovall’s presentation. Pictures of Dr. King and showed on projector screens behind the stage captioned with his quote: “our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Quote taken from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

GVSU President Thomas Haas introduced Stovall, who insisted upon using a portable microphone , so he could deliver his message while moving amongst the crowd.

GVSU President, Thomas Haas introducing David Stovall

Stovall’s speech began with King’s most popular message: the “I Have a Dream” speech, King delivered on August 23rd, 1963. But history teachers and textbooks, often skip from that day, to the day of King’s death, April 4th, 1968, Stovall noted.

“King’s last four years of life represented a major change. Yet we don’t talk about it,” Stovall said. “He put forward a challenge to young people and we need to break the silence.”

Speaker David Stovall

Throughout his address, Stovall weaved in and out of the crowd and urged today’s youth to “pay attention to the way race and class affect our daily lives.  We have to force ourselves to refute the lie.”

King’s messages and speeches after 1963, may be forgotten by history, but Stovall believes that King’s lessons from that period are just as important today as his more popular speeches. “800,000 people are currently working without pay. Because someone wants to build a wall that the border patrol does not think is necessary.”

Video of Government Shutdown, courtesy of MSNBC.

During the presentation, Stovall didn’t just talk about the past. He mentioned the recent viral video of Native American elder, Nathan Phillips “who dar(ed) to stand in between a potential fight and offer a prayer. But in today’s media it’s construed as a confrontation.” Stovall continued, “when peace makers are made into potential threats, we live in a different world and Dr. King is saying,  we need to pay attention to this.”

Video of Confrontation, courtesy of ABC News.

Following the presentation, many students were impressed with the message and felt compelled to share it. Thomas Quaine, a resident advisor on GVSU’s Allendale campus jotted down notes throughout the speech and intends on sharing them with the students on his housing floor. “His message was very powerful,” Quaine said. “It was very informative and it taught me where we should go and the difference between challenge vs. progress.”

Crowd watching David Stovall deliver his address.

Near the end of his address, Stovall criticized the hypocrisy of the United States, saying “we live in a place called the United States, that was founded on slavery, genocide, and wrongful land appropriation. We live in a country that at any given moment can reject the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment.

“Change can only come when people make a demand for freedom,” he added. “And in that demand, we can end suffering.”


Though it has been more than 60 years since Dr. King’s assassination, GVSU Advertising and Communications Manager Bryan Bickford said, “we are not doing enough to honor him (MLK) and we are not working together to create change.”

Bickford added, “his message will always be relevant . There is always a place to stand up to injustice and that will be forever.”

Watch video of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Courtesy of Ilya Gokadze

Later in his speech, Stovall encouraged the crowd, “we are prepared for hard times. We always have been and I will not leave you by yourself. Because if I do, I have just lied to you for 25 minutes.”

“When you think about Dr. King, think about what it means to fight and win for the people you love.” Stovall said in conclusion. “And no more reduction, but only expansion on who he is and what he has done.”

Events commemorating King and Black History Month continue throughout the month of Feb. on both GVSU’s Allendale and Pew Campuses, visit https://www.gvsu.edu/oma/black-history-month-24.htm for more details.

Click and download the link below to listen to David Stovall’s Speech: https://drive.google.com/file/d/11bhU8f-3AaL2wisHWq9R1myDOxmslS0z/view?usp=sharing 

MLK addressing crowd following his “I Have a Dream” Speech. Photo courtesy of Business Insider

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