GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Multiple Grand Rapids organizations are hosting events celebrating Black History Month, including featured speakers, community discussions, plays and exhibits throughout February.
Most of the events will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are also some socially distanced in-person programming and self-guided tours available. There are more options than ever to learn about Black culture, history and experiences.
Black History Month is celebrated every February to highlight the achievements of African Americans and recognize their significant role in U.S. History.
Here’s a look at some of the events happening in the area:
NAACP – Bridging the Gap Discussions
The Greater Grand Rapid’s NAACP will be kickstarting two virtual discussions aimed at connecting Black Americans to history, culture and resources on Saturday, Feb. 20 and 27 at 3 p.m.
Discussions will range in topics from providing context on connections to African culture to using technology to solve challenges in Black communities. Discussions will also feature personal anecdotes and spoken word from advocate and minister Shomari Tate.
Speakers will include Grand Valley State University professor Richard Yidana, University of Kansas professor Randal Maurice Jelks and Spectrum Health Culture and Transformation Health Lead Mary Brown. They will be joined by a cast of panelists and supporting contributors.
Those interested can view more information about this event and more on the Grand Rapids NAACP Facebook page.
Black History Tour of Downtown Grand Rapids
The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) is encouraging people to take a free interactive tour of the city’s civil rights history. The two-mile self-guided tour covers 11 historic locations from Fountain Street Church to Crescent Park.
The tour starts with Helen Claytor, a civil rights activist who became the first African American president of the national YWCA in 1967. She also was president of the local Y. In 2014, a statue honoring Claytor, was placed in Grand Rapids Community College’s Dr. Juan R. Olivarez Student Plaza. Other stops include the historic Fountain Street Church downtown, which has hosted Malcolm X, an African American leader in the civil rights movement, and Langston Hughes, a notable writer who was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
The tour, sponsored through Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., was created by local high school students, who were asked what Black leadership and culture looked like in their home city. Walkers are encouraged to use the free GR Walks app to be guided by podcasts narrated by Grand Rapids City Commissioner Joe Jones, who is also CEO and president of the Grand Rapids Urban League.
Those interested can get started today by downloading the app from the website.
GVSU’s Talk Back Tuesday
Grand Valley State University’s Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity is collaborating with the Office of Multicultural Affairs on an edition of its monthly Talk Back Tuesday series that focuses on the intersectionality of race, gender and the current political climate. The livestream will be held Tuesday, Feb. 9 from noon to 1 p.m.
Held digitally on Instagram and Facebook Live, the discussion will focus on a new governmental administration, Kamala Harris’ historic election and what the future could look like for Black women in America.
The discussion will be helmed by Brandy Lovelady-Mitchell, director of the Kent Intermediate School District’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Michelle McCloud, Assistant Dean for Finance and Project Management at GVSU; and Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count in Michigan project director.
Those interested are encouraged to RSVP. A full list of Black History Month events hosted by GVSU can be found on their website.
Hope College – Light and Hope for the World to See
Author Kwame Alexander will be featured in a virtual presentation at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26, organized by a cohort of Hope College organizations.
Kwame has authored 32 books with literary accolades such as being a New York Times Bestselling author and holding both a Carnegie and a Newberry medal for his work. He boasts a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, three NCAAP Image Award nominations and founded the #AllBooksForAllKids initiative to increase book diversity in libraries.
The event will focus on a range of topics, including Kwame’s newest book, “Light for the World to See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope.”
The digital event is free to all, but K-12 students and educators are especially encouraged to attend. More information can be found on Hope’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore website. Click here to see more events.
Calvin University – From Spoken Soul to Hip Hop
Calvin University’s Communication Arts and Sciences Department is hosting their own professor Andrea Kortenhoven, who is leading the discussion “From Spoken Soul to Hip Hop: Language in Black America.”
The lecture will take place in Meeter Center Lecture Hall at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
The lecture examines how black vernacular and Ebonics have influenced contemporary Black English. Ebonie Atkins, assistant in the office of multicultural affairs, said contemporary Black English can be traced back to Africa, so the lecture’s background will help explain its relevance in today’s culture.
The event will be followed by an 8 p.m. poetry jam at the Fish House, which will feature prose exclusively from Calvin students.
On Wednesday, Feb. 16 at noon history professor Eric Washington will examine the church’s role in racism in a lecture titled: “The Most Segregated Hour: The History of the African-American Church.” The lecture will accompany a luncheon in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall. Contact Ebonie Atkins if interested in attending the luncheon at email@example.com.
See more events scheduled here.
Celebrate at the Grand Rapids Public Library
The Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) is inviting the community to join in online programs throughout February for both kids and adults that highlight and celebrate the Black community including the following:
- Join GRPL for a virtual series of Black History Month Storytimes premiering on Saturdays at 10 a.m. beginning Feb. 6. Area residents can enjoy books featuring Black characters or that are by Black authors.
- On Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. GRPL will present a virtual presentation by the Ebony Road Players’ of “Anne and Emmett.” This is an imaginative stage play of a meeting between Anne Frank, a German-Dutch Jewish girl, and Emmett Till, an African American boy, in a place called “Memory” to share accounts of their lives and deaths. The story compares and contrasts how the racial injustices experienced on both ends were more similar than many people want to accept, according to the website.
- On Wednesday, Feb. 17 at noon GRPL will present the Community Spotlight: We Are Lit GR with Kendra McNeil. This lunchtime mini-series is opportunity for people to learn more about local Black-owned businesses and initiatives. McNeil is founder, curator, and owner of We Are LIT, an independent, multicultural bookshop based in Grand Rapids, selling new, diverse books across all genres.
Check out GRPL’s Facebook Page and YouTube Channel for more information on these and other programs.
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