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Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses move conversation to action at #TheShift Summit

On Friday, November 18, Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) will host #TheShift Summit, featuring speaker Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhart on supporting African-American communities through innovative business models.
Jamiel Robinson, shown on far right with last year's GRABB award winners, is the organizer behind the #TheShift Summit.

Jamiel Robinson, shown on far right with last year's GRABB award winners, is the organizer behind the #TheShift Summit. /Jamiel Robinson/GRABB

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#TheShift Summit and 4th Annual GRABB Black Market and Awards Reception

#TheShift Summit

  • All are invited
  • Friday November 18, 2016 at 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM EST
  • At Seidman College of Business, 50 Front Avenue SW in Grand Rapids
  • Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhart will speak on co-op businesses in Black communities
  • Town-hall meeting with Black organizers from nearby communities like Kalamazoo and Muskegon
  • Strategic planning for economic development of African-American communities
  • Includes lunch
  • Tickets are $40 in advance, or $20 for Students, available online

4th Annual GRABB Black Market & Awards Reception

  • Friday, November 18, 2016, from 4:00 - 8:30 pm
  • At ArtPrize HUB/HQ, 41 Sheldon SE in Grand Rapids
  • A celebration for those contributing to the forward progress of Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses
  • Black Market "pop-up shop" will feature more than 20 local Black-owned businesses
  • Includes shopping, a strolling dinner, and networking
  • Tickets are $35 in advance, available online

More information available on Facebook or at

Are you ready to make #TheShift? Jamiel Robinson says spending 10% at Black-owned businesses is a good start.

Are you ready to make #TheShift? Jamiel Robinson says spending 10% at Black-owned businesses is a good start. /Jamiel Robinson/GRABB

Are you ready to make #TheShift? Jamiel Robinson wants to know. Robinson, founder of Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB), is organizing #TheShift Summit, taking place Friday, November 18 at the Seidman College of Business on GVSU’s Grand Rapids campus. I spoke with Robinson at Icons Coffee Shop on Eastern Avenue, a Black-owned business, to learn more about the Summit.

Now in its fourth year, GRABB works with African-American businesses and neighborhoods on economic development, both in Grand Rapids and the outlying area. “We bring in resources to help the African-American community rise out of its current condition. In Grand Rapids currently, 45 percent of African-Americans live at or below poverty level. In certain neighborhoods that are predominantly African-American, unemployment rates are as high as 53 percent. These factors lead to things like higher infant mortality rates. I started GRABB to help address those disparities.”

#TheShift Summit will bring together community activists and work professionals with people from the neighborhoods. All are invited. “Around the community, people often have conversations over coffee or drinks about how we can improve the situation for African-Americans. I want to get people together to move that conversation into action. At the Summit we can put together strategic plans and working groups that can work in unison toward the betterment of the African-American community.”

Author Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhard will be the featured speaker. Author of Collective Courage, a history of Black cooperative businesses, she will speak about co-ops and incremental community development. As Robinson explains, Blacks who begin businesses typically have difficulty getting loans, and so they begin under-capitalized. Gordon-Nembhard focuses on leveraging the collective wealth in the community to start cooperative businesses that are employee-owned or invested in by people of the neighborhood.

Robinson also pointed out that the current spate of development in Grand Rapids “offers very little opportunity for individual African-American ownership. It’s more helpful when there’s an anchor business that smaller businesses can build around -- such as when Rivertown Mall came into Grandville, and smaller businesses in the community could develop around that over time.”

The Summit will end with a town hall featuring Black organizers from nearby communities, followed by an Awards Reception hosted at the ArtPrize HQ, “a celebration of those who have been doing the work at the grassroots level consistently.” The Awards Reception will also feature the Fourth Annual Black Market where at least twenty different local entrepreneurs of color will offer wares for sale and demonstrations about their businesses.

#TheShift is a hashtag that Robinson coined for “a shift in behavior, in mindset, in policy, in all the things that contribute to the condition that the African-American community find themselves in. …  Any statistic that indicates success, we’re at the bottom of. How do we change that? We need a shift. From a business standpoint, #TheShift is about increasing our spending at our African-American businesses.” Robinson cited Dr. Maggie Anderson, author of Our Black Year, who estimated that “out of all Black spending, only 2 percent goes to African-American businesses. If you were to change that from 2 percent to 10 percent, just that small increase would create millions of dollars within African-American communities.” A directory of Grand Rapids Black-owned businesses is available on the GRABB website.

“We would like to see everyone involved. It requires those who are leaders of different institutions to look collectively at what’s going on in Grand Rapids. Those leaders want Grand Rapids to be on par with other world-class cities,” said Robinson, pointing out that the population of city of Grand Rapids is about 60 percent white and 40 percent people of color. “If you’re leaving behind almost half your residents, how can you be a world-class city? It’s up to us in the community to have difficult conversations on creating equitable outcomes for the residents who have endured generations of disinvestment while at the same time paying taxes. The work has to be led by local African-American communities to get at tangible, lasting outcomes.”

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