By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Pastor Troy “PE” Evans probably best described the Cesar E. Chavez Social Justice March and Community Gathering the best.
“I was about to apologize about there not being enough room, but this is pretty sweet,” said Evans from the podium at the Edge Urban Fellowship where he serves as pastor and where the community gathering took place.
The event – in honor of civil rights leader César E. Chávez – started with the march from Potters House School on the corner of Van Rattle and Granville Avenue, known as César Chávez Boulevard. The parade, which was lead by Mayor Grand Rapids Rosalynn Bliss and Committee to Honor César Chávez Chairperson Lupe Ramos-Montigny, ended at Edge Urban Fellowship, located at 735 Ritzema SW, right next to the César Chávez Elementary.
The little over an hour-long program – will be broadcasted on WXTV (channel 25 on Comcast, channel 26 on AT&T, and channel 99 on U-verse) – started about 15 minutes late as organizers worked to seat attendees with the audience spilling into the foyer and balcony area.
The annual event is organized by The Committee to Honor César E. Chávez in partnership with the César E. Chávez Unity Committee, a community and collegiate collaborative that includes Ferris State University, Aquinas College, Central Michigan University, Davenport University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Valley State University.
The legendary Latino leader, who died in 1993, co-founded the United Farm Workers Union. The event, which falls on his birthday every year, is designed to commemorate the vision of Chávez “to engage all, particularly youth, to carry on his values and timeless vision for a better world.” During his life, Chávez made several visits to Grand Rapids in support of improving working conditions for migrant workers who worked in the fields.
“I can hardly speak,” said Ramos-Montigny as she spoke to those who had crowded into the church. “And I know, coming from me, it’s hard to believe,” gathering a chuckle from those in attendance.
“I am truly moved by the students,” Ramos-Montigny said, adding that she has made it her life’s work to educate the students about Chávez, his life, his work and the importance of all people coming together for a common goal.
This year’s event was in, in fact, dedicated to education. “Education is the pathway to social justice,” said Ramos-Montigny, who had the audience repeat it several times. As part of the education focus, this year’s honoree was Kathleen N. Straus, who served on the State Board of Education from 1992 – 2016. She served six terms as president of the board along with filling various other positions. Straus was presented a portrait of her by Grand Rapids artist Erick Picardo.
Ramos-Montigny noted that this year’s brought together Straus, who was ending her education career with students who were just starting there. On hand at Thursday’s program were students from a number of local colleges and universities, including Ferris State University and Grand Valley State University. Also, students from Northview High School’s Varsity Voices performed as well as students from the César Chávez Elementary School, who performed the closing song, the traditional folk-song and considered to be the anthem for the United Farm Workers Union, which Chávez helped found, “De Colores.”
“So you will see me with my peacock tail with my feathers all ruffled as I am very proud of what we the committee has done every year for all the students,” Ramos-Montigny said.
WKTV will be broadcasting the César E. Chávez Social Justice March and Community Gathering. Check the WKTV listings at wktk.org for dates and times.