Archives for category: Race

Too often, the word “gentrification” is a conversation-ender. In 2010, when vandals marked up several prominent Wealthy Street businesses with indictments of gentrification we saw a combination of resistance and diversion from the Wealthy Street business community and its patrons, which again seemed to shut down the conversation. The “charges” of gentrification were dangerously dismissed as being the result of “disgruntled suburban kids… who [don’t] understand what’s really going on in this neighborhood.” G.R.I.I.D quotes a news report where one of the affected business owners said that he knew the protesters were not people from the neighborhood “because most drug dealers don’t use words like ‘gentrification.” 

The problem with diverting the story away from affected communities is that it again shifts the focus of the conversation away from the real effects that gentrification has on communities and the real opinions that communities have about the gentrification process. So the purpose of these next few entries are to help us engage in conversation around gentrification and hopefully will help us understand better what really IS going on in this neighborhood.

The Sparrows, a coffeehouse and newsstand at 1035 Wealthy St. SE, was among the businesses vandalized early Christmas morning, 2010.

The Sparrows, a coffeehouse and newsstand at 1035 Wealthy St. SE, was among the businesses vandalized early Christmas morning, 2010.

Now held up as a bastion of urban renewal, the narrative around the development of Wealthy Street has been that of a group of dedicated neighbors who fought to reclaim their neighborhood from the symptoms of urban blight. While I do not question that these neighbors worked hard, and will not argue that the issues associated with marginalized urban neighborhoods are ones that any person should have to be consigned to, it is clear to even the most casual of observers that the benefits of the development of Wealthy Street do not extend south of corridor itself.

The question that immediately comes to my mind is: What enabled these community organizers to be so “successful” in their development efforts? In order to adequately answer this question, I think we need to delve deeper into a few things. Over the next few weeks, we will take time to probe into the following aspects of the development of Wealthy Street.

  1. History
  2. Incentives
  3. Policy

The final piece of this quartet will be describing a people’s reality as they interact with Wealthy Street. I hope that you will lend your voice to the conversation!



Recently, it was brought to my attention that Grand Rapids as a city has, and has had for a while, one of the highest rates of black infant mortality in the country. 2009 data shows that our most recent black infant mortality rate hovers around 17.3%. To give you some context, this places us behind Mexico (16.2%) and well behind Syria (14.6%). Another interesting point of contrast is our white infant mortality rate, which is around 4.4%; safely below our national average of 5.9%. Research shows that outlying risk factors (education, socio-economic status, access etc) account for less than 10% in the variances in the rates of low birth rates between white and black babies. In Fact, white women who smoke during gestation, a known risk factor, still have significantly lower infant mortality rates than African-American women who do not.

Infant Mortality Rates in Grand Rapids

Infant Mortality Rates in Grand Rapids

So what then is causing this awful health disparity in a city lauded as a “mecca of health?” Medical professionals believe that ongoing exposure to large quantities of stress hormones is a leading cause in disparate pregnancy outcomes, as stress is known to be a complicating factor for pregnancy. The question then becomes: what large stressor is present for African-American women that doesn’t exist for white women?

Racism. The stress of racism is one of the leading causes for higher infant mortality rates among African American women. 

“Statistics show that women with very low birth weight babies were three times as likely to have experienced interpersonal racism than women with children of normal birth rates. Foreign-born black women see their rates of infant mortality rise to the same level as U.S.-born black women within a generation.” – Megan Carpentier, RH Reality Check.

A report last year scored the U.S. 100 largest metropolitan areas according to racial equity for African Americans. All of the 15 least equitable cities (Grand Rapids is 13th) have black infant mortality rates that are significantly higher than the nation’s average.

As somebody who works in the social service industry, we should start thinking about what kind of societal changes need to take place in order to make our city safer one for all our women. For more information on how to be a part of changing the current disparate landscape, contact the Grand Rapids African Health Institute and talk to Stephanie. She’ll point you in the right direction.


via: Young Adult Leadership Task Force of the CRC

Listening to Dr. John Perkins speak about how this generation is the first in America to embrace diversity struck a chord with me. Being at the national CCDA conference with four of Tall Turf’s teens, each from a different ethnic background, I felt proud. Proud that we were representative of this diversity that Dr. Perkins spoke of, and proud that our differences were being valued so highly.

On the long drive back to Grand Rapids from New Orleans, one of the topics that came up with our teens was how different it felt being in a place that recognized the value in diversity as opposed to living in a place that so often does not. We talked about how in Grand Rapids, our ethnic backgrounds at times feel more like an inconvenience or something to be glossed over, rather than a gift and as added to potential to who we are.

In the world that we live in, white is often synonymous with power and embedded in power is the ability to impart value. The result of this, albeit a shameful one for people of color, is that we too often search but do not receive validation from white society. For example, a couple of months ago I was at a church event with my wife who is white. She was engaged in a prolonged round of “Dutch bingo” with a fellow Grand Rapidian, until my obvious lack of engagement in the conversation resulted in its topic eventually coming to rest on me.

“Where are you from?” I was asked.

“I’m from Singapore” I responded.

“Oh, wow. But your English is so good!” I was devalued.


Although the above exchange might seem insignificant and isolated to the foreign-born, it is one that shades itself in different hues for many people of color. The questions “where are you from,” “what school did you go to,” “where do you work” or perhaps the most poignant “where do you go to church,” begin to feel like probes that are used to measure value. And when our answers do not match the standard set by those in power, we begin to internalize the fact that we lack value.

I think the implications of this is two-fold. First, to my people of color: I think it is important for young people of color, to find places where we can be affirmed in the value of our diversity. As leaders of color we need to continually affirm each other and remind ourselves that there is value in our diversity and seek to eliminate barriers that hinder our coming together. Second, I think it is important for our white brothers and sisters to recognize that there are power dynamics at play and to be educated on the appropriate (another post to follow on appropriatemess) ways to affirm people who are different.

Lastly, I think it is important to create spaces where people have the luxury of making mistakes. Over here in GR, through C.O.R.R. (congregations organizing around racial reconciliation) we caucus once every other month. Caucusing is the, when it comes to being encouraged and motivated to deal with some of this stuff. If you are interested in getting involved, let me know.


Earlier this week WoodTV8 did a story on a “secret school for illegal immigrants” that was meant to reveal an undercover program designed to help undocumented children and youth who came here on their own.

I couldn’t help but be mad when I saw this. Here’s why:

The sensationalized title: I was honestly a little disappointed when I watched the actual story. It didn’t seem half as conspiratorial as the title suggested. The main reason for that being that the program offered by Bethany Christian Services is not actually “secret.” The information about the lives of the children in the program is secret, but that’s a critical distinction.

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 9.06.17 AM

Using the “I” Word: use of the word “illegal” primes the audience to already be against the children and the program that advocates for them.  “Illegal” is a harmful slur that dehumanizes and discriminates against immigrants regardless of migratory status. Many of the children/youth in Bethany’s UAC program are seeking Asylum from circumstances in their own country. This does not mean that they are here illegally, it just means that they are “in process.” If you don’t think that using “illegal” as a descriptor has a negative effect, you need not go far; the comment stream on the above story should suffice.

the economic benefit of immigrants:  the story highlights repeatedly how much money the government spends on programs such as these without mention of the net economic gain that immigrants provide this economy. Research shows that undocumented immigrants actually contribute more to public coffers in taxes than they cost in social services and contribute to the U.S. economy through their investments and consumption of goods and services; filling of millions of essential worker positions that results in job creation, increased productivity and lower costs of goods and services; and in contributions to Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance programs which they themselves do not benefit from.

Tools for action: 

Support Bethany Christian Services: they do awesome work in our community and really are not trying to just make a buck. Visit their website or give them a call to find out more.

Drop the “i” word: Applied Research Center (ARC) is a racial justice think-tank that is running a campaign to drop the “i” word, join the movement. Locally, there is a petition to get WoodTV8 to also drop the “i” word. You can sign that petition here. No human being is illegal.

Be informed: Do some research into the economic impacts of immigration, you will be surprised. And it is always a great conversation starter.


My friend Jermale and his wife are opening up a juice bar at the new downtown market. This juice bar is not just chalk full of anti-oxidant-goodness, it is also an avenue that they use to hire kids from our community. Simply put: it’s AWESOME.

The downtown market‘s diversity clause however? Less awesome. Out of 28 vendors in the indoor market, only two vendors, are people of color but the market’s slogan is “accessible, convenient and welcoming, just like West Michigan.”

Welcoming? um, not so much downtown, and not so much West Michigan. Let’s make some room for more Malamiah’s.


fruit juice

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