In 2020 Angela Nelson, former Vice President of Multicultural Business Development, shared this statement and open letter addressing the 2020 killings of Black people, protests in our city, and destruction to downtown businesses.

On May 25, 2020 George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after a white police officer knelt on his neck for exactly eight minutes and forty six seconds while he was handcuffed face down in the street.

When I watched the incident on the video that went viral, all I could do was weep. As a Black woman with a Black father, Black brothers, Black nephews, and Black friends I couldn’t help but envision their faces in place of George’s. The mere thought of “What if?” sent a warm sensation over my body and tears streaming down my face. After all, as a nation, we had just dealt with the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery and the Central Park confrontation between Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper. So, all of the emotions I had bottled up that week took me from numb to hurt to anger in a matter of minutes. I had never witnessed death, but especially none like George Floyd’s.

In fact, I caution you if you decide to google the video and watch it. Give yourself the space to process the emotional trauma that you might experience.

The response to George’s death has been massive, and it has generated a different kind of response than it has in the past with other high profile #blacklivesmatter killings. The world has taken notice. And the media, especially social media, has led people to think that the urban unrest is counter-productive to seeking Justice for George instead of framing and acknowledging that there were pre-existing conditions in the Black community that incited the aggressive behaviors in the first place. George’s untimely and horrific death is only one part of the narrative being amplified. When in fact, the narrative should be led with Black people and their allies have been working for decades to forge a path forward to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.

George Floyd’s death was a tipping point – the ripple in the pond - that set in motion protests across the entire nation and world, including our own city. Symbolically, the protests are like a tea kettle. As steam builds up and heats up inside the kettle, it causes vibrations. The kettle lets off steam and the more intense the vibrations grow, the louder the whistle grows. What we are witnessing is a marginalized community, including my brothers and sisters in the Latino and LGBTQ+ communities, fervently speaking out for the protection of their civil and human rights. And, it didn’t totally start because of George and likely won’t end because of him. In fact, they are likely to continue until we can envision ourselves living in a world where systems and structures do good and not harm.

Over the course of the past week, Grand Rapids served as a backdrop to several peaceful protests. While one of them devolved into a different tone resulting in destruction to downtown businesses, attractions, and store fronts; it was encouraging to see community members from all backgrounds and zip codes show up early the next day to assist in cleaning debris from the streets, scrub graffiti from buildings and lend a helping hand to impacted business owners. Property loss pales to the loss or value of human life, but destruction is not the answer. And, we stand with our downtown businesses as they restore and prepare to serve again. There is a lot of deep hurt that exists, but what remains true is that there are good people that are unified by respect and they will show up to serve amid adversity.

The Experience Grand Rapids staff and board are heartbroken and outraged that our fellow community members continue to see themselves in the anguished faces of those whose skin tone is used to falsely suggest that they are a threat, or less than human. We stand in solidarity with our visitors, planners, residents, partners, suppliers, and friends in the Black community. We see you, we hear you and we value you.

#BlackLivesMatter every day, everywhere even in Grand Rapids. We are here to be a part of the change, do the hard work and have the tough conversations.

As the local destination marketing organization for Kent County:

  • We will continue to ensure our destination is a place where visitors, especially people of color, feel safe, welcomed, and respected.
  • We will be more intentional about building and cultivating relationships with black and brown community members and businesses owners to lend their talents, services and perspectives to help lead our work.
  • We will also continue to invest in our workforce development initiatives, advocating for increased minority representation at all levels within the tourism and hospitality industry
  • We will continue to systemically advance the work of diversity and inclusion internally and externally. We’ve made some progress but continue to take action to do more and dig deeper.

It is the diversity of our community that makes the fabric of Grand Rapids strong. Our organization is confident in the abilities of its community members to rise together and work toward progress that results in positive change.