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Opposition grows at second AmplifyGR meeting, but even if the majority of the people opposed the project AmplifyGR director says they would still move forward

July 28, 2017

There were two things that were incredible about tonight’s community meeting hosted by AmplifyGR.

First, almost everyone of the the people who spoke during the roughly 80-minute public comment time, were critical of what AmplifyGR was doing, skeptical of the process or outright opposed to what AmplifyGR has in mind to do.

From the very get go, people were not mincing words about what they felt about AmplifyGR, Rockford Construction and the DeVos family. Community Activist LaDonna Norman told the AmplifyGR people sitting up front, “stop making our community look stupid.” Norman was referring to what AmplifyGR was doing and acting like they had nothing but good intentions. LaDonna then went on to name what was happening and that the whole thing was essentially, “DeVos owned. Everyone involved is bought and paid for by the DeVos Family.

The facilitator then asked the audience how many people agreed with this sentiment. Lots of people clapped or shouted out. When the facilitator asked how many people did not share Norman’s perspective, there were only a few who spoke up. However, what was interesting is that the facilitator then said, that the response was evenly split. This kind of denial or attempt to control the narrative was thick throughout the night.

Another African American woman says she is currently homeless. She used to pay $500 a month for a 3 bedroom place to rent. Now she can’t find the same thing for less than $1,000 and actually is is 3 times the cost for what she used to find. She wants to stay in this community, in this neighborhood. She asks AmplifyGR if they are going to have real affordable housing that does not have all these restrictions.

Then there was a question about supporting existing black owned businesses in the neighborhood and how people did not want to see another Starbucks come in. AmplifyGR’s response was to focus on providing entrepreneurial support through Start Garden, which is yet another DeVos run entity.

Tempest Warfield, an afro-Latina,  just made it plain when she given the chance to speak. She spoke passionately and called out who is running this process. She said that a lot of what this boils down to is race and class. “People want to just stay in their homes, but people are feeling bullied by the wealthiest family in the area. People want to keep their homes and leave a legacy for their kids. We do have purpose here, even if it doesn’t look like it to the DeVos family.” John Ippel, from AmplifyGR, responded by saying he gets it. Tempest came right back and said, “be careful about practicing white savior politics.”

Other people were asking about AmplifyGR’s commitment to elevating civil rights or asking would the new development cause zoning changes or property taxes to rise. The AmplifyGR folks didn’t directly answer those concerns, but the community made sure they answered, after several people shouted, “you didn’t answer the question.”

Allison Colberg, with the Micah Center, said there is a huge fundamental problem with the story that is being told. AmplifyGR is framing thing whole effort as “the AmplifyGR area,” when in fact it is not there area. Alllison provides a sharp analysis of what is going on through a White Supremacy lens – that the making of policy and other forms of systemic racism took wealth from black people. “The community should be in charge. We broke and it is based on a history. So put some duct tape on it and just listen.”

There were several other critical and challenging comments made by people throughout the rest of the evening, some from using the microphone, while others just shouted it out from their seats. Then Ken Miguel-Cipriano made an interesting statement that was also in the form of a question. He asked if the majority of people in the community were opposed to what AmplifyGR wanted to do, would they honor that is close up shop? Ken then said, “how about if 70% of the people opposed it?”

This brings us to the second incredible thing that was said during the meeting. The Executive Director of AmplifyGR, John Ippel responded by saying, “even if 70% of the community opposed this, we would just have to get back up and move forward and do it better.” You could heard several people in the audience gasp in horror and the level of arrogance they heard coming from the AmplifyGR person.

This sentiment from AmplifyGR, was affirmed at the end, when the facilitator ask the three men seated on stage what their take-aways were from tonight. Each of them responded by saying that they were looking forward to more community engagement and working with neighbors. It is as if they didn’t care that there was significant opposition at this second community forum.

Afterwards, there were lots of small conversations taking place and the ones this writer overheard reflected both the level of community opposition to the AmplifyGR project, as well as being shocked by the level of arrogance displayed.

This is far from being a done deal. The next meeting is September 7. We’ll keep you posted.



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