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The Acton Institute invites AmplifyGR to talk about what they are doing in Grand Rapids and there is no mention of who created the non-profit

February 3, 2019

On January 24, the far right think tank, the Acton Institute, hosted a presentation by Ashanti Bryant, the education project manager for AmplifyGR. 

Bryant’s presentation lasted only 30 minutes, which was followed by a Q & A session. However, throughout the entire event, whether it was the introduction give by an Acton representative, the presentation or the Q & A, not one word was mentioned about how AmplifyGR came about two years ago. To some this might not seem like a strange thing, but consider the following. The DeVos family has contributed millions of dollars to the Acton Institute over the past 25 years and Betsy DeVos sat on their board of directors at one time, along with her mother Elsa Prince. Betsy’s son, Rick DeVos, now sits on the Acton board. With all of the connections to the DeVos family, it would seem that at an Acton Institute event, there would be some mention of the connection between the most powerful family in West Michigan and AmplifyGR. Unfortunately, the connection was not made.

You can watch the presentation by Ashanti Bryant at this link, but it wasn’t very compelling, especially since he basically read a powerpoint presentation. However, I watched the presentation and found it instructive enough to share some analysis of what Bryant had to say. Before doing so, it is important to point out that Ashanti Bryant’s background in education is as follows. Bryant used to be a principal at Grand Rapids Christian Schools and he has been a consultant to both private and charter schools.

Purpose Built Communities

Ashanti’s presentation centered around Purpose Built Communities, the model that AmplifyGR has been pushing since its creation 2 years ago. The AmplifyGR Education Director began by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, offering up two quotes that were both fairly innocuous.

Bryant then talked about concentrated poverty, plus gave national and regional statistics. He also spoke about the history of racial segregation in housing and education and cited Richard Rotherstein’s book, The Color of Law.

The AmplifyGR Education Director then talked about the 49507 zip code in Grand Rapids and referenced Todd Robison’s book, A City within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Up to this point, the information that Bryant shared was solid and relied on great sources, but then came the punch line. There was no call for racial justice, for an end to White Supremacy or for reparations for the African American community in Grand Rapids. Instead, Bryant suggested that the way to overcome all of this historical racism in Grand Rapids was what AmplifyGR was promoting, the Purpose Built Communities model.

However, unlike the Purpose Built Communities model that has been used around the country, with an emphasis on housing, education and wellness, AmplifyGR has added a fourth component, what they call jobs and entrepreneurialism. Within this model, Bryant said that there needs to be a backbone organization, an organization that can act as an anchor for the implementation of the Purpose Built Communities model. You guessed it, AmplifyGR is the backbone organization in this case.

In many ways the Q & A portion of the presentation was the most revealing. A white guy told a story about a wealthy person wanting to move back into an area of Detroit that had suffered from disinvestment and then said that this guy was being accused of gentrification. Bryant’s response to this comment was, “We at AmplifyGR avoid using the word gentrification. We believe in a diversity of incomes living together, but we prefer to call it investing in the community.”

In response to the question about job and business creation, Bryant said that AmplifyGR plans to bring 1,000 new jobs to the area. As of today, there are 4 new businesses and 100 new jobs created, according to Bryant, but he never qualified how well those jobs paid.

The only education question that was asked had to do with whether or not AmplifyGR was pushing Charter Schools as an education solution. Bryant said that in their model, they partner with three education centers, with Heritage Academies, GRPS and Hope Academy. Both Heritage Academies and Hope Academy are Charter Schools and the GRPS is Charter School friendly.

Bryant was then asked how AmplifyGR did community engagement. He said they started out doing town hall meetings, but then said he would not recommend doing town hall meetings, since he just provided people with an opportunity to vent frustrations. Bryant said they now host resident meetings, which are small and allows AmplifyGR the opportunity to focus on the Purpose Built Communities model. Of course Bryant would say don’t do town hall meetings, because AmplifyGR was called out repeatedly during the three town hall meeting that were held in the summer of 2017

The last question had to do with how AmplifyGR was utilizing the private sector for their work. Bryant mentioned that Rockford Construction was involved early on. Unfortunately, Bryant failed to mention that Rockford Construction had purchased dozens of properties in the Boston Square and Cottage Grove areas in 2017, spending millions without resident input. 

So, you have an AmplifyGR presentation at an Acton Institute event and there is no discussion about the millions of dollars that the DeVos family has contributed to the Acton Institute, not the fact that the DeVos family created AmplifyGR and bankrolled the purchase of dozens of properties in the AmplifyGR target area, without resident input. But that’s ok, because they are in that neighborhood to “help.”

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