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Grand Rapids Youth Employment Program is an insult to the community in the midst of calls for Defunding the GRPD

July 3, 2020

The current Black Lives Matter uprising that has been going on across the US, is also taking place in Grand Rapids. The May 30th protest in Grand Rapids, was a culmination of the collective rage and frustration of thousands in this community, but it also exposed how the City of Grand Rapids really deals with issues like equity and racial justice.

The City of Grand Rapids used overt force to suppress the May 30th uprising, then brought in the Michigan National Guard and instituted a curfew for two days. Since then, there have continued to be marches, protests and vigils, which have been trying to center the lives of Black people in this community, particularly around the Black community’s experience with policing.

In addition, there has been a major call for Defunding the GRPD and a Refunding of the Black community. The groups that have been calling for a Defunding of the GRPD are LINC, the NAACP, Urban Core Collective, The People’s Budget GR, Together We Are Safe, Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapid Response to ICE and the Grand Rapids Pride Center. This collective effort has generated thousand of e-mails and calls to City officials, with an emphasis right now on reducing the police budget to the 32% 1995 City Charter mandate.

If the City of Grand Rapids would reduce the current GRPD budget to the 32% level, that would be about a $9 million reduction. The Defund the GRPD campaign has also been calling for a Refunding of the Black community, which would not only be a first step to promoting equity and racial justice in Grand Rapids, it would acknowledge the decades-long disinvestment in neighborhoods with the highest percentage of Black residents.

Instead, Grand Rapids officials have responded by calling for mild police reforms, increased police training and a youth employment program. It is as if City officials are actively ignoring the calls for Defunding the GRPD. In fact, they are actively ignoring these calls for Defunding the GRPD

Grand Rapids City officials are digging their heals in on the matter of policing, by calling for yet another Community Police Advisory Council, which is nothing more than a way to pacify people into thinking that resident input will be heard. However, what is most insulting is the City’s youth employment program, which has already closed their application process.

The City’s Youth Employment Program, also known as GROW 1000, is a, “Public-private partnership offers young people new skills, career exploration, professional connections.” When they say public-private partnership, they mean that the City will direct youth to the very businesses that make up much of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

• Amway Corp.

• Autocam Medical

• Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

• Brian Harris

• Cascade Engineering

• Crystal Flash

• CWD Real Estate Investment

• DeVos Foundation

• Feyen Zylstra

• Grand Valley State University

• Huntington Bank

• JD Loeks

• Jireh Metal Products

• Kent County

• Meijer

• Metro Health

• Mixed Staffing & Recruiting

• OST

• PNC Bank

• Rockford Construction

• SeyferthPR

• Steelcase

• Trillium Investments

• Warner Norcross + Judd

• Wege Foundation

• Windquest

• Wolverine Worldwide

This youth employment program is targeting 15 – 21 year olds who live in the City of Grand Rapids, for a 120-hour work experience, where youth will make $10 an hour. So, the City wants to channel youth, particularly Black youth, to do work for an insultingly low wage, at jobs with private entities that are deeply invested in maintaining business as usual politics in Grand Rapids.

Now, I’m all in favor of providing opportunities and jobs to youth, particularly Black youth in this city. However, if the City would actually listen to the calls for Defunding the GRPD and Refunding the Black community, there would be a whole different dynamic that the current youth employment program, which seems at best a form of tokenism.

If the City of Grand Rapids would heed the calls for Defunding the GRPD and Refunding the Black community, imagine how $9 million – which the City could Refund to the Black community this year, if they reduced the police budget to the 32% City Charter mandate – could impact the lives of Black residents.

What if $9 million was allocated for Black Youth employment? And I don’t mean through the Neo-Liberal Capitalist Public-Private partnership, but a youth employment program that the City could run to provide skill building opportunities for Black youth in Grand Rapids.

First of all they could pay Black youth $20 an hour and provide them with full employment. Second, the City would create employment opportunities that would pay Black youth to learn how to grow food in an urban setting, say on the dozens of vacant lots that the City currently owns throughout the city. This urban agricultural program would not only teach youth important life skills, but provide fresh produce to neighborhoods that are currently experiencing a form of food apartheid. Imagine what an urban agriculture program could do to impact the health of Black residents and provide an opportunity for Black youth to engage in work that would be life-affirming and potentially transformative.

However, what is most important in the Defunding the GRPD, Refunding Black communities effort that thousands of people are calling for in this city, is that the Black community would have total control over what to do with the funds that are taken from the GRPD budget. It would also be a radical departure from the insulting City Youth Employment Program, which is unimaginative and it just exposes Black youth to City businesses that are deeply committed to maintain structural racism in Grand Rapids.

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