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January 16, 2023

On a rainy cold Saturday, I AM Academy founders, Henry and Lindsay Cherry welcomed a sold out gathering from the Holland community, to the Holland Civic Center for a celebration and commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Surveying the throng, Henry smiled as he recalled Dr. King’s dream that his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. The luncheon began with a sumptuous buffet donated by Gentex Corporation. The other two Platinum donors were the City of Holland and MillerKnoll. Teachers who assisted the essay writers, and art teachers who put together the displays and sales in the lobby, were also acknowledged. Dr. Kalisha Morin, founder and owner of Mona Leone Lakeshore Dental Academy was held up as an example of giving youth a “Representation” of successful black professionals. The Dental Academy accepted four I AM students into their program and one has completed licensing requirements as a dental assistant. Eli J. Boxing Club was identified as an example of “mentorship”. After a visit by more than a dozen I AM students, one showed a strong interest and will be mentored by Coach Eli, thanks to a scholarship from an I AM sponsor. ”Exposure” is the third critical discipline provided by I AM. The example given was last summer’s trip to Memphis, where students were exposed to a Historically Black College and stood in several places where Dr. King stood, including the Lorraine Motel. Other expenses were covered by our generous sponsors and partners. Be sure to note the other 11 sponsors who merit our thanks and support. They are listed below.

The tone of the program was set by several local students. Alesha Vandenberge, from Holland High School, acknowledged that the land we inhabit was confiscated from the Native American tribes of the Three Fires who still hold these places as sacred. Quincey Leonard from West Ottawa High followed with an acknowledgement of his ancestors, who could have been descended from slaves and became free, supported themselves and developed a family identity that lives on today. Amiyah Guys from Holland High traced the history of African people who captured other Africans and sold them to Europeans for guns and material possessions. She then recounted the horrific journey across the ocean, followed by slavery, practiced even by our founding fathers. The laws were then written to protect slaveholders and to de-humanize slaves. These laws lasted until 1866, and then were changed again to protect the rights of white landholders in deference to the poor and African Americans. Even after these laws were changed, the legacy of discrimination and inequity continues.

Next, all stood as Isabel Shepard from West Ottawa and Felix Cruz from Holland High capably led in the singing of the “Black National Anthem”, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

Following the moving rendition of the hymn, four students from Holland High presented their winning essays on the topic, “Why We Can’t Wait!.” All four referred to quotes from Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Hannah Maginnis reminded us that the letter was sent to other pastors who were critical of Dr. King for moving too fast. Dr. King reminded the pastors that oppressors do not voluntarily give freedom, except when confrontation gives them no better option. Lauren Hofland also stressed that freedom is never given; it must be demanded. Silence is not acceptable because injustice continues with examples like Emmitt Til and George Floyd. Emmet Book stressed the need for immersion and interaction with one another to combat bias and ignorance. In spite of all the gains we have made in technology, we have not progressed in giving mutual respect. Yanyssa Ochoa recalled that it has been 158 years since the 13th Amendment to the Constitution ended legal slavery. Discrimination continues. Equity must be demanded. Waiting means never. We must use our First Amendment rights and speak up when we see injustice The audience applauded and cheered when they asserted that we must act and we must do it now!

A panel discussion was then moderated by Holland Christian High student, Christopher Kingdom Grier. The panelists (Joe Matthews, Flurry Jackson, Brandon Pearson, and Isaiah Reynolds) represented a variety of ages, locations, and experiences. Armed with statistics about inequities on health, education, income, loan availability, and selective law enforcement and treatment, the panelists each recounted their experience with mentors, whether they were parents, coaches, or other concerned adults like those offered by I AM Academy. They said that the most effective mentoring is not dictatorial, but more mutual with dialogue rather than lecture. They stressed that they learned from the example of Dr. King that there is a need for urgency, but that resistance must be strong in the face of confrontation. All four panelists cited the motivation for acting in love came from their faith.


Participating Schools Included:

  • Holland High School

  • Holland Heights Elementary School

  • Holland Language Academy

  • Holland West Elementary School

  • Jefferson Elementary School


Participating Schools Included:

  • West Ottawa High School

  • Harbor Lights Middle School

  • North Holland Elementary

  • Pinecreek Elementary


We understand this is an added task for our already busy teachers and want to take a moment to publicly thank those teachers who chose to give our Holland and West Ottawa students a voice. We thank you for your time and resources. We thank you for making an impact!

Holland Teachers

  • Emily Armstrong

  • Jeanine Behrendt

  • Mary Cafferman

  • Sara Folkert

  • Julie Jacobusse

  • Sarah Malone



West Ottawa Teachers

  • Nicole DeRoo

  • Nate Kukla 

  • Christina Moffet



The MLK Service Award seeks to recognize an individual who has removed barriers toward the advancement of Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the Holland Area! 

This person:

  • Has a heart and passion for serving members of the Holland Community by connecting people and/or organizations
  • Has a vision for a more inclusive and just community
  • Is a Strategic Thinker, evident through taking a thought or idea and moving it into actionable steps or impact
This year’s recipient has exemplified these characteristics for years in the Holland community and beyond. 


Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom Grier

Jada Livingston from Holland High then presented the 2023 Community Services Award to Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom Grier. Rev. Grier is currently the pastor of Mobilization and Renewal at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids. From September, 2009 through September, 2021, she was lead pastor (Pastor of Embracing) at Maple Avenue Ministries in Holland. In addition, she has been a foster parent, a mission liaison to South African Children’s Services for the Reformed Church in America, and a community advocate for justice in many Holland causes. Rev. Greer thanked God for the recognition and for the growing mission of I AM Academy. She challenged the “congregation” by quoting Dr. King, 

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  


Lauren Beck closed the program with a “Thank You” cheer for Martin Luther King after reminding us of I AM’s commitment to exposing our youth to goals and professions that may be overlooked or assumed to be unattainable. She reminded us that cooperation from partners in the community and monetary donations are necessary to expose youth to these aspirations and teach them about their history and their potential to be “GENIUS”. 

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You choose whether you want to sponsor a student for our annual Summer College Tour, help expand our Juneteenth Freedom Festival, or maybe you just want to give it towards the area of greatest need...

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