City first in state to celebrate intersection of Chávez and King

Published on February 22, 2022

César E. Chávez Avenue SW and Martin Luther King Jr. Street SW sign installation

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. ­­– Civil rights heroes César E. Chávez and Martin Luther King, Jr. are now memorialized along two major throughfares in Grand Rapids thanks to the work of the Moving Ahead for Remarkable Civil Rights Heroes (M.A.R.C.H.) Committee. Grand Rapids is the first Michigan city to have cross streets named in honor of these two civil rights leaders. This afternoon, City leaders, M.A.R.C.H. Committee members, Paul Chavez, son of César E. Chávez, and Reverend Dr. Derek King, nephew of Martin Luther King Jr., gathered at the intersection of César E. Chávez Avenue SW and Martin Luther King Jr. Street SW – once was known as Grandville Avenue SW and Franklin Street SW – for a signage installation ceremony in Grand Rapids.

The ceremony comes after M.A.R.C.H. brought a proposal forward last year asking the Grand Rapids City Commission to formally change the name of Grandville Avenue to César E. Chávez Avenue between Clyde Park Avenue SW and Weston Street SW, and Franklin Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Street between Oakland Avenue SW and the boundary with the city of East Grand Rapids.

On October 12, the Grand Rapids City Commission unanimously approved a street name change resolution that enacted the official name changes effective February 22. The measure also made Grandville Avenue and Franklin Street the commemorative names of César E. Chávez Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

The East Grand Rapids City Commission yesterday also approved the renaming of Franklin Street SE to Martin Luther King Jr. Street from west city limits to Plymouth Avenue. The street renaming followed a formal request from the M.A.R.C.H. Committee and will take effect May 2.

“We are making history in the City of Grand Rapids,” the Honorable Lupe Ramos-Montigny, M.A.R.C.H. co-chair, said. “We had everyone in mind when we proposed the renaming of these two streets. These two civil rights heroes truly made an impact all over the world and now that impact flows into the streets of Grand Rapids. César Chávez used to say, ‘We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.’ This M.A.R.C.H. Committee also endured. We were able to touch many hearts and many minds. For that, we are very thankful to the community and the City Commission for the support and the encouragement to make this happen.”

Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, M.A.R.C.H. co-chair, said, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged America to live up to its true creed that all men and women are created equal. This day is another step forward.

“These two great American leaders were change agents and were people of color. Having a chance to honor them is overdue and welcomed. Grand Rapids has grown today. To see the true meaning of diversity, whether in Grand Rapids or Kent County reflected, even in our street signs that didn’t initially include people of color, is a big deal. Honoring their lives and legacy by boldly and jointly renaming these streets is a unifying act for our city. It promotes our shared goal of creating a welcoming environment for all.”

City of Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner Milinda Ysasi and Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear both served on the M.A.R.C.H. Committee, participating in community outreach to strengthen awareness and support of the name change and formally brought the proposal to the Commission for consideration. Each were champions of the measure and say it is most appropriate to salute these American civil rights leaders in this way.

“As the City’s first Grand Rapids Latina Commissioner, this brings me a lot of joy to be able to rename these streets for these two civil rights heroes,” Ysasi said. “I want to thank everyone on the committee, but also the community members and businesses that supported this effort in recognition that places and spaces matter. Recently we’ve come have through a time of racial reckoning in this community and in this country. We are everyday striving for that racial equity that Martin Luther King, Jr. and César Chávez worked towards, and this is truly historic. This is really about the past and even more about thinking about the future.”

Commissioner Lenear, the first Black woman elected to the City Commission, said the work to rename the streets had a huge impact on her.

“This is really about community, unity, dedication and representation that are all things that matter,” Lenear said. “This joint effort is intentional because we know our coming together symbolizes our local unity. César Chávez once said, ‘Preservation of one's own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.’ This new cross-section of César Chávez and Martin Luther King Jr. streets sends a message that this is a community not for just one community of people, but for all, as both leaders stood for all and unity.

“Signs are powerful and without a spoken word send messages,” she said. “Sometime those messages send direction – like traffic signs – and other times of oppression – think Jim Crowe. The M.A.R.C.H. Committee sought to change the names of these streets for a sign of unity, peace and power. Something these two civil rights heroes, who never met, boldly represent. For we know representation matters.”

Prior to today’s street name change effective date, the City sent letters to property owners and residents who live along these two streets to inform them that:

  • The City coordinated updates to address records for city services, water billing, major utilities, voter records and navigation services like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). USPS and other shipping services will deliver to addresses listing either Franklin Street or Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Grandville Avenue or César E. Chávez Avenue
  • Residents and businesses can use Franklin Street or Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Grandville Avenue or César E. Chávez Avenue as the street name for any mail/package delivery services and navigation services
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