Obama advisor speaks at MLK celebration

Valerie Jarrett, the former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, speaks at the annual MLK Celebration in the Malcolm Field Theatre. Vanguard Photo | Kyle Will

The Great Lakes Bay Regional MLK Celebration was held in the Malcolm Field Theatre on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m.

Valerie Jarrett, the former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, was the guest speaker for the event. Alveda Williams, the corporate director of inclusion at Dow Chemical, was the moderator for the conversation with Jarrett.

“When I learned I had the opportunity to meet Valerie Jarrett, I was thrilled,” Williams said.

Jarrett expressed similar delight at being able to speak to the students and community members at such an important event.

“(These scholars) are standing on the shoulders of Dr. King, and they’re going to hold (future generations) on their shoulders,” Jarrett said. “These young people are what keep me optimistic.”

Several hundred guests were in attendance, both university students and community members.

The celebration opened with a brief welcome from host David Custer, a WNEM-TV5 anchor, followed by a musical performance by Mt. Olive Institutional Missionary Baptist Church and the presentation of the flags by the National Guard Armory 1st Battalion 125th Infantry Regiment Color Guards.

President Don Bachand welcomed guests and went over key moments in the night’s agenda.

During the event, 15 Bay region students were awarded MLK scholarships for their dedication to community service. Each scholarship was worth $1,000 toward the student’s college or university of choice.

The students shared a video, in which they recited King’s 1958 speech, “Crusade for Citizenship.”

Three outstanding community members were then honored with the MLK Drum Major Award before the moderated discussion began.

During the discussion, Williams and Jarret discussed leadership.

“We all have an opportunity to lead from our own courage,” Williams said.

Jarrett strongly agreed.

“Part of living a courageous life is going against the grain,” she said. “The courageous life is to have courage in yourself.”

Jarrett credited her parents for teaching her about courage and inner strength.

“(They taught me) to take a reasonable number of risks, just don’t go nuts,” she said.

Williams asked Jarred if she had any further advice for students.

“You are never too young to find the courage to be agents of change,” Jarrett said. “Be critically engaged. … You’re surrounded by people who could benefit from your involvement. Start local, that’s where the power is. Go from there.”

Jarrett talked about how college is a safe place to voice ideas and share opinions, as well as a safe place to learn how to agree to disagree with others.

Williams and Jarrett spoke about the importance of diversity inclusion in businesses before Jarrett left the stage.

After a second performance by Mt. Olive, Mamie Thorns, the special assistant to the President for Diversity Programs, gave the closing remarks.

“I am so glad we were able to secure (Jarrett),” Thorns said. “It’s been a great day to celebrate.”

Reporting by Hannah Beach, Vanguard A&E Editor

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