Grand Rapids, MI

The Legacy of Black Entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids: Building a Stronger Economy and Community

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The Legacy of Black Entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids: Building a Stronger Economy and CommunityPhoto byStephanie ValenciaonUnsplash

Black History Month is an important time to reflect on the contributions and achievements of Black Americans, and in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this celebration is especially meaningful. The city has a rich history of Black leaders, entrepreneurs, and activists who have shaped the community and fought for social justice.

The origins of Black History Month date back to 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week. This week-long celebration was created to highlight the achievements of African Americans and to counteract the exclusion of Black history from American textbooks and educational curricula. In 1976, the week was expanded to a month-long celebration, officially becoming Black History Month.

In Grand Rapids, the celebration of Black History Month has a unique history. In 1989, a group of community members came together to establish the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, which is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and culture of Black Americans in the city. The museum serves as a hub for events and exhibits throughout the month of February, including art shows, film screenings, and lectures.

One of the most significant events in Grand Rapids during Black History Month is the annual Soul Food Symposium. This event brings together community members to celebrate African American culture through food and storytelling. Attendees can sample traditional soul food dishes like collard greens, black-eyed peas, and fried chicken while listening to live music and poetry readings.

The city also has a rich tradition of Black entrepreneurship, with notable figures like Robert S. Brown, who founded the Brown Funeral Home in 1910, and the late Fred Meijer, who transformed his small grocery store into a multi-billion dollar retail chain. These business leaders paved the way for other Black entrepreneurs in the community, who continue to make an impact on the local economy.

In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of Black Americans, Black History Month also serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial equality and justice. The city of Grand Rapids has a history of racial tensions and segregation, and many activists and community leaders have fought tirelessly for change. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s saw protests and demonstrations in Grand Rapids, and the struggle for racial justice continues to this day.

One important figure in the history of Grand Rapids during Black History Month is William L. Pickard, a successful businessman, and philanthropist. Pickard is the founder of Global Automotive Alliance, a holding company that oversees a number of automotive-related businesses. He is also a significant donor to educational and cultural organizations in the Grand Rapids area. In 2016, he made a significant donation to Grand Valley State University, which led to the creation of the William L. Pickard Center for Minority Affairs. The center is dedicated to supporting minority students and promoting diversity on campus.

Another important event during Black History Month in Grand Rapids is the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. This event brings together community members to honor the legacy of Dr. King and to celebrate the ongoing struggle for racial justice. The celebration includes a march through downtown Grand Rapids, as well as a program of speakers and performances.

Despite the progress made in Grand Rapids and across the country, racial inequality and discrimination continue to be significant issues. The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the ongoing struggle for racial justice and the need for systemic change. Many community members in Grand Rapids have been involved in protests and demonstrations in support of this movement.

As we continue to celebrate Black History Month in Grand Rapids, it is important to acknowledge the ongoing struggle for racial justice and commit ourselves to create a more just and equitable society. This means supporting Black-owned businesses, advocating for policies that promote diversity and inclusion, and listening to and elevating the voices of Black community members. By working together, we can build a stronger and more inclusive community.

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