News

How Aquinas Saints have celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.

Photos and story by Zach Avery, News Editor

The 17th annual MLK Blood Drive at the Alksnis Mezzanine in Sturrus.

In anticipation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past month, Campus Ministry and the Community Action Volunteers of Aquinas (CAVA) collaborated on the 17th rendition of a long-standing Aquinas College tradition: the MLK Blood Drive.

This year’s event took place in the Alksnis Mezzanine of Sturrus, which is a COVID-related compromise after a decision that the Wege ballroom wouldn’t be suitable for the blood drive. The organizers expected around forty donors throughout the day for this voluntary service, and the medical staff from Versiti Blood Center, along with account representative Liz Collver, were pleasantly surprised with the unexpected amount of first-time donors who arrived without notice.

“We’re here four times a year, and this is usually our most popular blood drive,” Collver said, “We hope to collect over 30 pints of blood today.”

Thirty pints of blood from a single day’s work is a tremendous feat. Collver said that one pint of blood is enough to serve three different patients within the Grand Rapids area. Versiti has been the local blood center in Grand Rapids for over 60 years, and there is no doubt from Aquinas staff and faculty that the work done by donors and volunteers at events such as these have a profound effect on the health and wellbeing of our city.

“The blood donated has an immediate impact on our local community,” said Robert Gilmore, the Associate Dean for Mission, Ministry and Service Learning at Campus Ministries, “as well as leveraging a network of national and global scientific research to extend our impact.”

The annual MLK Blood Drive began as a joint venture between the Diversity Initiatives office and Service Learning through Campus Ministry in January of 2004. The organization effort was a collaboration between Eric Bridge, the former director of Service Learning, and Stacey Crews, then director of Diversity Initiatives. 

At this time, a national movement emerged to increase diverse participation in blood drive donations. While Aquinas already had an impressive history of organizing yearly blood drives that inspired donors from both the Aquinas and surrounding Grand Rapids community, the constant need for more donors was not lost on blood drive organizers.

Simultaneously, Crews and Bridge were seeking a pathway towards more involved participation in the national holiday commemorating Dr. King’s birthday.

“So, we combined these efforts to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day more than a day off, but a day of service,” Crews said.

An excerpt from the 2004 Aquinas Magazine on the inaugural MLK Blood Drive (Photo courtesy of the Archives Dept. in the Grace Hauenstein Library)

The inaugural “Blood of the Martyrs” blood drive was heavily supported by several student groups, including the diversity committee of Student Senate. With such a resonating effort from the faculty and staff to celebrate MLK Jr. Day more on Aquinas’ campus, it didn’t take long for students to petition for another leap towards more heartfelt celebration of an American hero.

Partnered with Paula Rosenberg, who is now a member of the Alumni Board, the Student Senate began a grassroots campaign to rename the campus’ “Gingko Lane” into Martin Luther King Jr. Lane. This effort sent a powerful message throughout Aquinas, as well as the greater Grand Rapids community, as a similar effort was being attempted at the city level and the petitioners there were meeting more and more roadblocks. For a group of students at a liberal arts college to find better success than city government committees was remarkable, and a media presence was there to take note of Aquinas’ effort on the day of the new street sign’s unveiling.

“We were always looking for ways to celebrate and acknowledge this day as a campus community,” Crews said, “The MLK Convocation was an annual celebration at AQ, so the renaming of Gingko Lane was a very appropriate honor.”

(L – R) Mayor George Heartwell, senior Paula Rosenberg, Stacey Crews, and President Knopke attending the unveiling of the MLK Jr. Lane street sign

Since then, the annual MLK Blood Drive has become a celebrated Aquinas tradition, and continues to be to this day. One unique feature of this event and other AQ blood drives like it is the sponsorship of several different Registered Student Organizations (RSOs). Maintaining Aquinas students as the leaders of the blood drives is a conscious effort made by dedicated staff members like Randall MacGeorge, the campus logistics coordinator for Aquinas.

“If someone hasn’t donated before, campus drives are a convenient way to find out how easy it is,” MacGeorge said.

For many college campus blood drives, there is a unique mix of both repeat-donors and new volunteers, so a coordinated effort to allow enough time between donations for maximum impact in the community is vital. 

The next Aquinas-sponsored blood drive is on March 23 in the Alksnis Mezzanine of Sturrus. Though Versiti will not be administering that specific day of donations, the blood center’s slogan speaks to the necessity of the event:

“People being a ‘Beacon Of Hope’,” Collver said, “We rely on that a lot.”

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The Saint would like to thank these individuals for lending their experiences towards our research in order to enrich the oral history of such an important and special Aquinas tradition:

Stacey Crews

Robert Gilmore

Brian Matzke

Randall MacGeorge

David Weinandy

Categories: News, The Saint, Uncategorized

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