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GR Forward Together video is not the happy ending

The new "GR Forward Together" video is to remind us that it takes all of us to make Grand Rapids an equal and inclusive city.
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Paola Mendivil and her son getting on the bus in Grand Rapids

Paola Mendivil and her son getting on the bus in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids' band Cabildo

Grand Rapids' band Cabildo

“Very cool;” “Awesome video;” “A true Grand Rapids;” are some of the comments by viewers regarding the “GR Forward Together” video by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. released online on July 11, 2016. I had the pleasure of enjoying the debut on July 8 during "Movies in the Park." It was a wonderful experience to watch it with my son and hear all the excitement in the crowd, close to 4,000 attended that night.

As the organization responsible for city-building and place-management in Grand Rapids’ urban core, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. commissioned ArtPeers for the creation of this video to showcase the diversity in the city. The ArtPeers collaborators for this project included SideCar Studios, Epiglotic Photographic, and Monroe O'Bryant of A Fearless Brother Project and Erin Wilson, director of the Wealthy Theatre. In consultation with numerous community advisors who also selected the music, the production team worked for several weeks visiting different places and events in the downtown area to gather the footage they needed. In addition, there were some scenes scheduled to be filmed to complement the vision. The final product has received tremendous support by residents; the video on YouTube has been seen over 1,000 times; the original Facebook post reached over 100,000 views, with over 1,000 likes and over 2,000 shares in 24 hours.

The video has exceeded the expectations of the people behind this project, but it is in fact the audience, residents of Grand Rapids, who will help accomplish its goal: to aspire to build a city where all people and communities come together and thrive regardless of race, ethnicity, age, income, ability, gender, sexual orientation, language and other identity markers. 

But why is it important? The connection viewers can make when watching the video and the representation of our population goes beyond telling a story. Many might argue that Grand Rapids is not a perfect city; that this video is tokenizing minorities trying to create a perception that is fake to reality. I don’t feel that way. DGRI's strategy was to highlight different activities and the many ethnic groups of our city to help deliver that connection and finally, those who didn’t relate before (from other marketing videos about our city) could see someone they know, some of the things they do or places they like to visit to embrace the fact that they do belong. The intent of this video was to also showcase how Grand Rapids behaves for other small cities and communities; the response by local residents speaks volumes on how assertive it is, although many don't believe it yet. 

Most of the time we rightly look at homelessness or unequal housing opportunities in the downtown area. There have been numerous conversations about issues impacting health, education, resources and representation to address segregation in our neighborhoods. These are important. That is why so many powerful organizations such as the Well House, Habitat for Humanity or Programa Puente from Spectrum Health, to name a few, exist. But it's also important to come together as a community and enjoy ourselves in the many opportunities that our Downtown area has to offer. We eat, we dance, we create, we connect, we truly experience our people and our cultures. Why not celebrate that as well!?

I personally feel that the video is exciting enough for different segments of our population to realize that there is opportunity to experience what they like, meet people like them and explore other cultures and find new things in downtown Grand Rapids. There is something for everyone! I feel honored to have been part of the project. I was invited by one of the advisors to appear in the video. After having a conversation with the director, he felt I could contribute to the reviewing committee representing my neighborhood, the Westside, my family business, but most importantly, being a mom engaging in my community. 

When I spoke with my friend and an advisor for the video, Stacy Stout, she agreed and said, "The process of the video is as important as the end product in that DGRI was very intentional to bring a diverse group of people with demonstrated commitment to equity, yet with diverse perspectives and opinions. The DGRI and production team sought to listen and stayed in an open learning stance with the goal of not just hearing us, but implementing what we said. After several hours already put into filming, editing, etc., the crew was eager to capture more footage to be inclusive. The phrase in the video of Let’s Grow Together, for me, is a call for consciousness and action to apply a racial equity lens to growth decisions: Is there a racialized impact on this decision? Who benefits and who does not? Who had power in the decision making? The video reflects both what downtown and Grand Rapids is, yet also a vision for an everyday Grand Rapids and a call to action for structural and systemic change so a racially diverse video is the norm. I’m proud of the process, people and product.” 

We live in a vibrant community; we need to make sure we focus on the positive aspects of our lifestyle. Is this the happy ending? Of course not. This is just the beginning of a larger, exciting and community-driven project that will benefit residents, businesses, and the youth on a long-term impact which will also need continuous improvement. The GR Forward Together video is to remind us that it takes all of us to make Grand Rapids an equal and inclusive city. Who wants to be part of it? You should!

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