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DeVos money, AmplifyGR, a new brewery and the future of Southeast Grand Rapids

November 27, 2018

In September, MLive posted a pretty solid article about what AmplifyGR was up to these days, especially since it has been over a year now that they cancelled the community forums they were hosting, meetings where the DeVos funded project had been receiving a great deal of push back

At the second AmplifyGR community forum, the director of the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation created entity said, “even if 70% of the community opposed this, we would just have to get back up and move forward and do it better.” 

AmplifyGR has indeed, moved forward. The organization has moved forward by avoiding the messiness of having community forums and decided to turn to what they refer to has more personal way to engage the community. In the MLive article published in September, AmplifyGR’s director John Ipple stated in that article that the mission of the organization was to “promote prosperity in a part of Grand Rapids that hasn’t shared in the economic rebound unfolding elsewhere in the city.” Such a statement is consistent with the DeVos philosophy of capitalism, but we should always ask ourselves, prosperity for whom? 

That same MLive article also pointed out that AmplifyGR has been giving out food baskets, doing turkey give-a-ways and promoting more local business development in the area. The MLive article also quotes Fran Dalton, with the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association who said, “she views Amplify as “a real possible resource and benefit to the community,” but contends the group does not want to pursue its development efforts “under the watchful eye of the community.”

In February, we posted an article about how AmplifyGR was hosting Start Garden’s 100 Ideas project, where people could come and pitch business ideas. A group of Start Garden selected people would vote on the best ideas and give $20,000 to each of those projects.

One of the projects submitted was by two African American men who wanted to start a brewery in the Boston Square area. Why not, white folks shouldn’t be the only ones profiting off of the creation of new breweries, right? 

However, it is worth looking a bit at the connections and relationships that made all of this happen, since it seems that hose involved are connected. So, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation created AmplifyGR, which is partnering with the Rockford Construction Company, which technically purchased the 32 properties in the AmplifyGR targeted area. Start Garden, which is also a DeVos family creation, hosts a “let’s fund some business ideas event.” One of the men involved in the Boston Square Brewing Company project, which received $20,000 from Start Garden at an event hosted at AmplifyGR, also works for Rockford Construction. Terry Rostic, co-owner of the Boston Square Brewing Company, is the Project Manager of Human Resources at Rockford Construction.

But, there is more to this than just the interlocking connections between all the players involved. There have been many people from the African American community that have been meeting and discussing issues around why the Southeast part of the city is the least developed. One group, which goes by the hashtag #SEGR on Facebook, has been looking at ways to prevent or minimize the effects of gentrification in the the part of Grand Rapids with the largest African American population.

I reached out to Rev. Jerry Bishop, who is involved with the group #SEGR. Rev. Bishop is the pastor of LifeQuest, which is also based in the southeast part of the city. I asked him what he thought about the new brewery that was announced for the Boston Square area and this was his response:

In short, it’s not in any way a vendetta against the Visionaries for the brewery. Rather, its a consistent position of wanting less alcohol/vices in that area.  More than a year ago a meeting was held on our campus with staff from Amplify and a line up of urban pastors that agreed that Olivers Liquor Store should be removed if a authentic redevelopment was to happen, much like how Speedy Mart was eliminated on Wealthy and Fuller.  It would be disingenuous to advocate for the removal of Olivers and then usher in a brewery. There has been more than one discussion on this.

This comment also gets to another aspect of having an entity like AmplifyGR plant itself in a neighborhood which it has not been a part of and yet it has purchased 32 properties for redevelopment. The question is, who gets to decide what happens in southeast part of Grand Rapids? During the larger AmplifyGR forums that were being held in 2017, several people were promoting the idea that DeVos/AmplifyGR/Rockford Construction could just give over all the land they purchased, which could allow the neighborhood to put it in a Community Land Trust and then take the time to let the people who live there decide what to do with the land. Some might even say this is a forum of reparations, where those from the white community who have benefited from white supremacy and capitalism for so long, could pay reparations to the black community and let them do as they see fit. Why do white people and white run organization always think they know what is best?

Lastly, it is also important to note that several members of the DeVos family and specifically Doug & Maria DeVos (which funded the creation of AmplifyGR) recently gave money to Cindy Hyde-Smith (see below), the Senator from Mississippi, even after she made racist comments about going to a public hanging and off handed remarks about supporting voter suppression. This is no marginal issue and it should be discussed openly, especially since Doug & Maria DeVos has funded and created AmplifyGR to push their own agenda in the southeast part of the city. More importantly, the DeVos family contributes millions to the Republican Party and the policies they have imposed on the public are disproportionately oppressive for black communities.

What if this dynamic and the other issues raised here were discussed in an open forum, where there could be more accountability? Transparency and accountability doesn’t just happen, we have to make it happen and then support those doing the work to bring these issues to light. DeVos money can back businesses by black people, but they will never support black people fighting for racial justice and an end to white supremacy!

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