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What does Racial Equity mean in Grand Rapids: Positive Rhetoric, mild reformism, but a failure to address system racism and White Supremacy

June 6, 2019

Beginning in 2016, the Kellogg Foundation provided $300,000 to Grand Rapids for its 3 year Racial Equity Initiative.

Two of the goals of this initiative are: 

Creating more jobs and employment of residents in Grand Rapids neighborhoods in 17 census tracts that have 48 percent of residents living in poverty that have the highest racial and ethnic diversity.

Create group and individual action steps that will have both immediate and long-term impacts.

While the Kellogg Foundation has provided the funding for this project, Grand Rapids is working with the Government Alliance on Race & Equity

Last Friday, an article was circulating on social media, that was written by someone who works for the National League of Cities. The article was headlined, In Grand Rapids, Neighborhoods Are the Cornerstone of Racial Equity.

The brief article talks about when Grand Rapids began their Racial Equity Initiative and what it has accomplished so far. The article is rather vague and identifies two ways that Grand Rapids can achieve racial equity. One way Grand Rapids is working to achieve racial equity is through the annual Neighborhood Summits. While I acknowledge that this summit has brought people together to work on specific issues, it has primarily approached social change from a “lets create more opportunities” approach, rather than a “lets address structural racism and dismantle White Supremacy” approach.

The second way that Grand Rapids is addressing racial equity, according to the article, was, Using Accountability and Root Causes to Create More Equitable Economic Development. However, the explanation provided only talked about the need to develop accountability tools, plus there was NO mention of addressing root causes.

In many ways the article was a fluff piece that did not provide an honest assessment of where Grand Rapids was in terms of racial equity or racial justice.

What follows are some areas where racial equity is not being achieved, especially for communities of color in Grand Rapids:

  • Black and Brown communities continue to be harassed, intimidated and brutalized by the GRPD and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Grand Rapids. Racial profiling of motorists of color is well documented and the way that policing is done in Grand Rapids targets neighborhoods of color and identifies them as high crime areas.
  • The housing market in Grand Rapids benefits the Real Estate industry, developers and property management companies and punishes working class families and communities of color. Gentrification has hit African American and Latinx neighborhoods the hardest, causing displacement and significant increases in the cost of home ownership and rental properties.
  • Communities of color continue to experience high levels of food apartheid and food insecurity, with limited access to fresh produce and whole foods.
  • The wealth gap in Grand Rapids is the highest in Michigan, yet there is no serious efforts to change this reality when it comes to communities of color, except for the false solutions offered through entrepreneurial projects.
  • The Grand Rapids Public Schools, which has a majority of black and latinx students, is grossly underfunded overall, yet it has a two tiered system that favors specialty schools that received a great deal of funding, while some schools lack educational resources and basic needs like heating.
  • Neighborhoods where the majority of the residents are from communities of color experience high levels of poverty, have limited green space, have high levels of lead and poorer air quality.

Conversely, there is little acknowledgement of the systemic racism or the structures that support white supremacist values, such as the private sector, the religious community, the criminal justice system, the news media and even the very government that is tasked with implementing the Racial Equity Initiative.

The Kellogg Foundation funding for this 3 year project is slated to end in March of 2020. Who in this community thinks that Grand Rapids is actually making significant strides towards Racial Equity???

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