Reaching Out to the Latino Community

An artist of the spoken word, David Gonzalez, a nationally acclaimed storyteller and performer, spent a week in residence at Michigan State University. With support from the College of Arts & Letters, he inspired community members from ages 4 to 94 to tell their stories and showcase their creativity.

David Gonzalez speaking to students at Eastern High School in LansingDavid Gonzalez speaking to students at Eastern High School in Lansing.

The general theme for the week was the power of the word in an exploration of identity, with a particular focus on the Latino community and culture. 

“It’s been wonderful because the Latino community is often a marginalized and forgotten community in some ways when it comes to higher education,” Gonzalez said.

This is the second year in a row Gonzalez has visited Michigan State University and the local community.

“Last year it was more about me as a performing artist and as an entertainer,” said Gonzalez, who also is a musician, poet, actor, and writer. “This year it was about getting folks engaged and exploring their own creativity.”

During Gonzalez’s visit last week, he met with students at Lansing School District's Averill Elementary School and Eastern High School, as well as Michigan State University. He also spent four days with senior citizens at Cristo Rey Community Center in Lansing. The common message among all age groups was the celebration of language and the power to communicate.

“Hopefully, I’ve modeled the joy, excitement, and power that poetry and spoken word can bring to the world,” Gonzalez said.

To do this outreach, to create channels, to bring people like me and others to the places where folks live, now that makes a difference.

Sheila Contreras, associate dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement for the College of Arts & Letters, helped with outreach to the Lansing schools for Gonzalez’s visit.

“People like Sheila and others are digging channels out in the community and that’s good for everybody,” Gonzalez said. “The fact that the University and this College are developing ways to bring forward the stories, narratives, and creativity within the community, and to enrich and encourage the principals of humanism, well that is a really important gift, but more important, a righteous duty. When the university’s walls are too high, it’s not good for anyone.”

Gonzalez’s weeklong residency culminated with an open mic spoken word community event at the Wharton Center on April 15, in which the general public was invited to read and share their own stories and poetry. The event was sponsored by the College of Arts & Letters Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center, and MSU’s University Outreach and Engagement.

“The Wharton Center and this College are making a concerted effort to reach out to the Latino community, many of whom are living at or near the poverty line and can’t partake, or don’t know how to partake, in many of the cultural riches that the university offers,” Gonzalez said.

“To do this outreach, to create channels, to bring people like me and others to the places where folks live, now that makes a difference.”

April 21, 2016