The Rapidian

New Experience GR video misses mark in representing real neighborhood diversity

When I moved to Grand Rapids in 2005 from Mexico, diversity and inclusion were not such buzzwords like they are today. But even in today's focus on talking about diversity, a recent video doesn't do the work to represent our diverse community.

As a proud resident of Grand Rapids, I'd like to comment on the recent video called "Grand Rapids Destination Neighborhoods" released by Experience GR.

Grand Rapids has been a city of opportunity for me and for my family in regards to education, business ownership and a place to call home. The change was difficult, but little by little we've established relationships and connections that have contributed to our success. When I saw the video from Experience Grand Rapids, I was disappointed: I couldn't relate myself to my own home in this showcase of our beautiful city. Not a single person of Hispanic descent was in it to represent us- not only in my community of the WestSide, but in the whole city!

I understand that it is a challenge to create a video showing a tale everyone will identify with. But difficult as it may be, it is important. Representation shows ownership we take in the place we work, live and play. Representation has to do with the sense of belonging and pride we take as residents.

When I moved to Grand Rapids in 2005 from Mexico, diversity and inclusion were not such buzzwords like they are today. At age 17, I didn't pay close attention to the developments, plans or projects in this city. In fact, I was planning to go back to Tijuana, Baja California.

Today, however, diversity and inclusion have been buzzwords for a while now. When the video was released, many voiced their concerns about its lack on those fronts. Patti Caudill, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for the City of Grand Rapids, is one of those who has concerns.

"It lacked diversity. I don't think that the video that was presented gave an accurate picture of the multicultural, multiracial city that Grand Rapids is. And on a side note, I don't know why they put East Grand Rapids in there, because it's an entirely different city. There's so much more they could have done with that video," she says.

Caudill says Experience Grand Rapids did not reach out to the Diversity and Inclusion Department when planning for or creating the video.

"One of the things that our office does is to service staff to the Community Relations Commission. They look at issues of equity, race and justice in the City of Grand Rapids," she says. ""We've reached out to Experience Grand Rapids in the past and offered to assist them and have never received an indication that they were open to that."

Erica Curry Van Ee, with the West Grand Neighborhood Organization, is also disappointed in the final product.

"...especially because I gave explicit feedback to the design team months ago when asked if I would participate in one of the interviews for the WestSide. I respectfully declined due to lack of diversity when they rattled off the names they had for WestSide speakers and suggested a list of WestSide residents, community leaders and business owners for them to consider instead, including Karl Williams from The Other Way, Paola R. Mendivil (myself) from El Granero, Sergio Cira from the Westside Collaborative, Enzo Cannizzo from Fratelli's pizza and Paki & Sayeed from Chicago Style Gyro. I don't know if any were interviewed but none of them made it into the final product," says VanEe. "We can't keep missing these opportunities. I understand decisions have to be made when you are trying to feature a large number of neighborhoods but this doesn't at all feel like a piece about neighborhoods, by neighborhoods or for neighborhoods to me."

So the question is, did they exclude certain ethnicities in this portray of the thiriving city, or did we fail to feel invited and included to be part of it?

I made myself included in the many things I am a part of today, and I do it to inspire others to also jump in and be part of it. It takes time, but I think our community is friendly enough to help through the process of connecting with one another, creating a supportive network of neighbors and professionals who care about each other, who help each other.

For their part, after the strong level of complaints Experience Grand Rapids decided to revisit the already-finished remaining eight videos before moving forward with them.

"After the release of our first destination neighborhood business video, questions surfaced on social media about the level of diversity in the video. Given the nature of the comments, we reached out to our community partners, including members of our Board of Directors and our Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and made the decision to delay further video releases until we could thoroughly review the situation," says Doug Small, CEO and President of Experience Grand Rapids. "As an organization, we continue to work on our cultural competency and will work with staff and stakeholders to reflect that in all further efforts."

I see many businesses and organizations try to be inclusive now to the many demographics represented in the area. Whether they are strategic and truly intentional or not, I believe we all are responsible for the outcomes. It's easier to come in when someone is inviting you, of course. That doesn't mean we can't knock on doors and create our own opportunities when they don't.

This is our city. I belong. You belong. Let's hope Experience GR notices that if they don't have individuals such as Carlos Sanchez, Jorge Gonzalez, Eva Aguirre-Cooper, Lupe Ramos-Montigny, Hugo Claudin or Sergio Cira-Reyes, to name a few, they probably don't have the whole story.

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Perhaps ExperienceGR should consider  to making diversity a value within it's own composition.   It's pretty hard for people to tell a story they have never heard.