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Whitmer, public officials participate in MLK Day luncheon

 Ruby Bridges, left, and state Senator Sarah Anthony (D), right, speak at an event honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, January 15, 2024.
Colin Jackson
Michigan Public Radio Network
Ruby Bridges, left, and state Senator Sarah Anthony (D), right, speak at an event honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, January 15, 2024.

Michigan politicians appeared in Lansing Monday to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at a memorial luncheon.

The theme of this year’s event revolved around the Thurgood Marshall quote, “The measure of a country's greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.”

Speaking on stage, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) noted the tumultuous nature of the times.

“Friends, this is a moment of incredible challenge as well as incredible opportunity. Dr. Martin Luther King would want us to focus on the opportunity and our responsibility to find the ways that we, each of us, can make a real difference,” Stabenow told a crowded room at the Lansing Center.

Organizers said around 1,500 people attended Monday’s gathering, the 39th year it’s been hosted.

This year’s celebration featured musical performances, scholarship awards, and more speeches from public officials and dignitaries. That included Ruby Bridges, who spoke onstage with state Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing).

Bridges, who famously helped integrate her Louisiana School district in 1960, invoked the innocence of a child during her talk.

“Little babies aren’t born knowing anything about disliking the baby lying next to them. It’s a gift. But we, as adults, we take it away from them. We are responsible for what we see playing out before us today. It’s not our babies. It’s us, as adults. And that’s what Dr. King was trying to tell us,” Bridges said.

Bridges was among the last speakers of the afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Governor Gretchen Whitmer kicked things off in a speech that tied King’s message to a form of patriotism.

She said believing in a fight is core to patriotic values, before later tying it into some of the Democratic-led policies passed last year.

“When we talk about protecting workers’ rights to negotiate for better pay and benefits, we are talking about patriotism. When we talk about free breakfast and lunch for every child so they can pursue happiness and success, we are talking about patriotism,” Whitmer said.

After her speech, Whitmer briefly discussed some policy topics with reporters.

Among them was how to respond to new state revenue projections that arrived last week.

MIRS News noted Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency Director Kathryn Summers wrote a memo to the Senate suggesting Michigan could finish the year with around $1.4 billion in the general fund remaining on the balance sheet.

The rate had temporarily been lowered to 4.05% last year due to a state law triggered by high revenue.

Colin Jackson is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.