United as a Community

The West Bloomfield Community gathered recently to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Lauryn Azu

On Sunday, January 17th, West Bloomfield residents, students, and community leaders all gathered at West Bloomfield High School for an annual celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Many people are aware of United We Walk, but most students are not aware of the beginnings of this important event.


The first United We Walk was 21 years ago in January of 1995. The concept for United We Walk originated in October of 1994 when Hertha Woodruff, a parent and a co-chair of the Multicultural Awareness Committee of Orchard Lake Middle School, proposed that the West Bloomfield School District have a community-wide event to coincide with the first time that school would be closed for Dr. King’s holiday.  The purpose was to educate the district’s school children of Dr. King’s principles and to embrace the rich diversity of the West Bloomfield  School District.  Dr. Seymour Gretchko was the superintendent who endorsed the proposal and  Hertha Woodruff  was appointed by Esther Peterson (the principle of OLMS) to serve as the first general chairperson of the United We Walk event  in 1995. United We Walk has taken place every year since in West Bloomfield.  


Typically the festivities begin in the atrium of West Bloomfield High School (WBHS).This year WBHS’ Jazz Band, under the direction of Mr. Chad Mielens, greeted guests with their musical talents. Guests also watched a video of WBHS students saying “Walk In Peace” in different languages, proposed by WBHS Assistant Principal Eric Pierce. Finally Police Chief Mike Patton addressed the crowd, and thus the march commenced. The walk down Orchard Lake included participants from many WBHS clubs, volunteers from area sororities and fraternities, and delegations from district schools. The WBHS Drumline led the march and the West Bloomfield Police monitored the march and redirected traffic. People of all kinds rekindled the spirit of Dr. King by marching together in the brisk January weather. When the march was completed, participants returned to the WBHS atrium to enjoy refreshments provided by Whole Foods Market West Bloomfield and the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation.


This year’s United We Walk included Community Leader recognition,the Expression Contest Winner’s speech, World Leader Recognition, and performances from the WBHS Orchestra and WBHS Choir, as well as a dance performance featuring dancers from Legacy Dance Studio in Southfield. This year’s keynote speaker was Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, who according to spectators, “was a phenomenal orator.”  Ari Felhandler, sophomore, witnessed the speech and described it as “breathtaking.”


Finally, the celebration concluded with United We Walk’s most important tradition.  Pastor Timothy Holzerland orchestrated a Candlelight Vigil with his illustration of an actual staircase that symbolized the importance of having the courage to take the  first step on an important issue even if one does not know the outcome.  Dr. King’s quote was projected on a screen while three persons spoke via video about how they overcame discrimination. Their message was, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”.


There are many ways WBHS students can get involved in United We Walk. It takes the tremendous efforts of both adults and students in the West Bloomfield community to make this event happen each year. This year the student co-chairs were Evan Foster, Cydnee Graham, Mario Kakos, and Vernon Moye. We spoke with Kakos on how he thinks other students can get involved with United We Walk. According to Kakos, “West Bloomfield students can become more involved with United we Walk by wanting to devote some of their community service hours towards this event. There is much more to do than show up at the event to help out. Students can help read to elementary students, audition for the student oratory contest, and much more.


If you are a student looking to get involved with a great community cause, United We Walk is a definitely a worthwhile event to participate in. To get more information, ask any of the current student co-chairs or email United We Walk at [email protected].