Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and, because of the pandemic, this year’s celebration by The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan will take place on television this evening, starting at 7 o’clock on WILX.
Last Tuesday, East Lansing’s City Council passed a resolution encouraging citizens to watch. Viewers can tune in to see a conversation between Elaine Hardy, the Commission’s Chair, and Dr. Bernice King, a peace activist and the youngest daughter of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King.
Besides chairing the regional MLK Commission, Hardy is the first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Administrator for the City of East Lansing, a position created last year following nationwide George Floyd protests.
But this past year is not the first time in recent memory that East Lansing has grappled with the concerns that formed the center of Dr. King’s activism.
In 2018, East Lansing reckoned with our history of racist housing discrimination, propelled by Alex Hosey, an East Lansing High School student. During his freshman year, Hosey sat for the national anthem at a basketball game at which his team was playing, and he subsequently wrote an essay explaining why he chose to sit.
In it, he cited the practice of property redlining, which had prevented his grandparents from living in East Lansing until 1968, and he called on then-Mayor Mark Meadows to “issue a public acknowledgement and apology” for the City’s role in “redlining, mistreatment and discrimination.”
The City subsequently passed a resolution apologizing for its discriminatory actions and promising to have the City Manager, the Human Rights Commission, and the East Lansing School District work to hold an annual forum on racism.
Such a forum was held in April 2018, but Alex and his father Sam recently told ELi that, as they see it, there has been little follow-up on the plans since then.
The issues of racial injustices and racism have continued to form nexuses of discussion and action in our city, and ELi’s reporting has evidenced this.
In the last year, ELi has continued to cover the work of the Human Rights Commission as it monitored the work of ELPD and called for the department to release videos of alleged instances of police brutality.
As citizen reporters, the ELi team covered a series of protests that started in February 2020, following Uwimana “Tito” Gasito alleging an ELPD officer used excessive force while arresting him. Over the summer, we covered the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The local protests’ leaders often cited as problematic the arrests and injuries of both Gasito and another Black man, Anthony Loggins, Jr., who also sustained injuries during an arrest by ELPD. We followed the story through multiple rounds of exoneration of the officer involved after investigations by the state police and an independent prosecutor.
In 2020, ELi also covered Council’s approval for the formation of the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission, which grew out of concerns about possible racial bias in policing. Reporter Heather Brothers regularly covers those meetings for our readers, and she has analyzed ELPD data that showed people of color making up a disproportionate percentage of arrests and officer-initiated contact when compared to East Lansing’s population.
Our investigative reporting in 2020 also found major disparities in racial/ethnic demographics when comparing the ELPS student population and faculty population and major racial/ethnic and gender inequities in the City of East Lansing’s workforce.
We have also covered actions by those who have been seeking to achieve more racial equity and inclusion in East Lansing. As noted above, in June 2020, Elaine Hardy was appointed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Administrator for the City. A few months after that, Council appointed two African Americans – Dana Watson and Ron Bacon – to fill seats vacated by Mark Meadows and Ruth Beier when they resigned from Council. Following the November 2020 election, the new ELPS School Board became the most diverse in its history, and Dr. Terah Chambers was elected the first Black woman to serve as the Board’s President.
We expect, based on the trajectory of local activities in 2020, that in 2021 we will continue to bring reporting that touches on these issues. Our thanks go to our donors who enable us to keep bringing the news in East Lansing. Remember: this is your local news operation, and we want you to stay in touch with tips, feedback, and information for our community calendar.
Disclosure: Alex Hosey is a graduate of ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program, an ELi reporter, and a member of ELi’s Community Advisory Board, and Sam Hosey is the President of ELi’s Board of Directors and a member of our Community Advisory Board.
Make sure ELi can keep covering these stories in 2021: