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Community updates: Thursday, Feb. 4

Local museums, library celebrating Black History Month with online events; Grand Rapids Fire Department forms community education team to improve fire prevention; LaughFest returns for mostly-virtual 2021 festival in March; and more.
Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives interior in 2018.

Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives interior in 2018. /Experience Grand Rapids

Local museums, library celebrating Black History Month with online events

Helping Grand Rapidians celebrate this year’s Black History Month, two local museums and the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) are hosting related events throughout the month, with most taking place online.

The Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives (GRAAMA) is hosting free, public “Basic Black 101” classes through Zoom every Saturday in Feb., plus three new exhibits chronicling different aspects of local Black history and culture. Other events by the museum are also planned.

Joining in Black History Month celebrations is the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM). The GRPM on Feb. 22 will host a free, public Zoom presentation titled “The History of Grand Rapids in Black and Brown: A Conversation.” It will feature three panelists – all authors on the Black or Latinx experience in West Michigan.

This long overdue conversation is an excellent opportunity to revisit both the collective and unique experiences of Black and Latinx Grand Rapids,” said Dr. Delia Fernandez, one of the authors and panelists. “This timely conversation on the histories of communities that have been relegated to the margins will surely offer a lens to understand the city's current social dynamics.”

For the GRPL’s part, it still has over a dozen online events planned, including lectures on Black authors, spotlights on local Black-owned businesses, music performances by local Black artists, and more. The events will live-stream on the GRPL’s Facebook and YouTube pages. A full list of the GRPL’s related events is available on its website.

The full list of the GRAAMA’s Black History Month events is available on the Facebook event page for its month-long celebration. More details about the GRPM’s Feb. 22 event is available on its own Facebook event page.


Grand Rapids Fire Department forms community education team to improve fire prevention

The Grand Rapids Fire Department (GRFD) aims to improve fire prevention in the city through its formation of a new Community Education and Engagement Team, it announced Wednesday.

The GRCF’s new team will work to educate the community on preventing fires through building on its Residential Safety Program, distributing information to the public, and streamlining its central/hazmat inspections process. Residents, businesses, and community organizations will all be engaged to make this happen, the department said.

According to the GRCF, Grand Rapids experienced a significant increase in fire fatalities in 2020. Nine lives were lost in five fatal fires last year, prompting the department to pivot to its new education-based approach.

“These fatalities were in different areas, affected different ages, and had different causes,” said Fire Chief John Lehman. “But the one thing they all had in common is no working smoke alarms.”

Through the Community Education and Engagement Team, the GRCF will distribute details on installing and maintaining smoke and carbon monoxide alarms for early detection and notification, as well as creating exit strategies in case of a fire emergency.

The GRCF will also provide self-inspection information to local businesses through partnering with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and inclusion of all local chambers of commerce and neighborhood associations.

“Having entities such as these will help us relay the importance of life safety in buildings and property conservation,” Fire Marshal Rick Dokter said. “This will allow us to save time and resources on having a successful inspection the first time we visit.”

Current fire prevention guidance from the GRCF is available through its website.


LaughFest returns for mostly-virtual 2021 festival in March

Gilda’s LaughFest returns for its annual comedy festival this year, with a mostly-online lineup of events and a shortened March 11-14 schedule, it announced last week.

Headlining acts, along with the full festival schedule, will be announced later this month. LaughFest also said that it will continue hosting its free virtual activities, such as its Family Improv Workshop, Kids Joke Time, and Laughter Yoga.

“It’s been a tough year, yet we remain ‘in this together’ and look forward to delivering smiles in a new way to West Michigan and beyond in 2021,” said Festival Director Joanne Roehm. “Our goal is to retain the spirit and community impact of the festival while providing a unique celebration as part of Gilda’s Club’s 20th year of operations.”

Last year’s LaughFest was cancelled five shows before finishing in March 2020, due to the pandemic’s spread through Grand Rapids and beyond.

This year marks the festival’s 11th year, with all proceeds again benefitting the cancer, grief, and support programs offered through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

LaughFest’s Laughter Rx Symposium, a conference with continuing education credit opportunities for health care professionals, will also continue to be part of the festival.

The upcoming lineup for LaughFest 2021 will be available on its website.


MDHHS allows winter contact sports to resume on Feb. 8

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) updated its pandemic-related emergency order on Thursday, allowing non-professional winter contact sports to resume on Feb. 8.

In the new order, face coverings must be worn during practice and competitions. If they cannot be worn, participants must be regularly tested for COVID-19 consistent with guidelines issued by the MDHHS.

The MDHHS will be issuing new guidelines for testing measures related to contact sports on Feb. 7 at

Today’s announcement is possible because of our progress over the last two months,” said Elizabeth Hertel, MDHHS Director. “Michiganders need to remain vigilant, however, as we now have a new more easily transmitted variant of this virus present in our state.”

As of Thursday, the MDHHS has identified declining trends for statewide hospitality capacity dedicated to COVID-19, overall case rate, and test positivity rate. These three metrics were used by the MDHHS in determining the resumption of winter contact sports.

The MDHHS’ pandemic-related emergency order remains in effect through March 29, 2021. Updates will be available on the department’s website.


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