DEI initiatives becoming focal point for Grand Rapids organizations

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With diversity, equity and inclusion dominating 2021’s headlines, the Business Journal looks deeper into what specific organizations and whole industries are doing to further those initiatives in West Michigan. The stories here offer plenty of opportunities to get involved in community projects or at least offer support.

The shelves at South East Market are filled with healthy items for a neighborhood that previously suffered from lack of access to food. Courtesy Ashley Wierenga

Local entrepreneurs advance food justice

By Rachel Watson

The movement for a more equitable future within the food industry is growing, and two local players are among those planting and watering the seeds.

Alita Kelly is owner of the South East Market at 1220 Kalamazoo Ave. SE in Grand Rapids, which opened in January, and Jermale Eddie is owner of Malamiah Juice Bar & Eatery, founded in 2013 and now located at 122 Oakes St. SW, Suite 110 at Studio Park. He also is CEO of Malamazing Juice Co., a new wholesale cold-pressed juice brand.


Foundations pursue racial justice in philanthropy

By Rachel Watson

Juan Olivarez

At a time when the nation is facing a reckoning for centuries of racial injustice, no sector is exempt from the rising calls for change, including philanthropy.

As the Business Journal reported last month, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University’s 11 Trends in Philanthropy report for 2021 largely focused on the impacts of wealth inequality, systemic racism and the need to address those issues with a better philanthropic model.

 

 


The Windows GR exhibit at Grand Rapids Public Museum focuses on works created for downtown last summer to further discussion of racism in the city. Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Museum

Museums focus on inclusive programming

By Danielle Nelson

West Michigan museums are giving the public a chance to look at the past through art exhibitions, educational programs and activities.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum, Muskegon Museum of Art and Holland Museum are making a concerted effort to focus on recent history and the social and cultural issues that derived from those times.


Consultant stresses ‘innovation through inclusion’

By Rachel Watson

Skot Welch

Skot Welch is a firm believer that inclusion is a business discipline that leads to stronger organizations and more powerful economies.

Welch seizes every opportunity he is given to create sustainable change underpinned by that belief — as president and founder of Grand Rapids-based Global Bridgebuilders, founder of the Mosaic Film Experience, managing partner of the New Community Transformation Fund, and an inclusion consultant on downtown Grand Rapids’ riverfront development project, to name a few of the many hats he wears.


Celebrating women in construction, Rockford calls for workforce diversity

By Ehren Wynder

Christa Amalio

Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Rockford Construction would have been participating in a number of activities and luncheons throughout West Michigan and across the state in observance of Women in Construction week. But to keep the spirit alive, the company offered its team – both men and women – a number of webinars and virtual meetings that celebrate the achievements of – and inspire more – women in construction.

Jennifer Boezwinkle, Rockford’s executive vice president of construction, has long been an advocate for women representation both in construction and architecture. She said the importance of Women in Construction Week is to highlight current women in construction, thereby inspiring more women and minorities to enter construction as a viable career.


Law firms pitch in to promote DEI

By Danielle Nelson

Stephen J. van Stempvoort

Law firms in Grand Rapids such as Miller Johnson and Varnum are using their resources to assist different organizations and institutions that serve underrepresented people.

Miller Johnson recently launched a new initiative called Project Giveback, which is designed to provide pro bono services to Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) West Central Michigan and Rende Progress Capital. Twelve attorneys will be performing 1,200 pro bono hours, which amounts to approximately $1 million in legal fees.

 


The relatively recent entry of cannabis retailers into the market is an opportunity for new avenues of education and employment. Courtesy Exclusive Brands

Cannabis leaders push for education, social equity in 2021

By Ehren Wynder

West Michigan’s recreational cannabis industry burst through concrete overcoming the challenges of 2020, but last year’s priorities still are the primary focus for 2021.

The cannabis boom in 2020 was driven by an increase in the average purchase size among consumers. In Michigan alone, recreational cannabis sales rose by 482% between January and December 2020.


In MCDC’s Kentwood office alone, there are 17 different languages spoken by patients in a given day. Courtesy MCDC

Public dental system works to expand equitable access to care

By Ehren Wynder

My Community Dental Centers is sounding the alarm on disparities in dental health among West Michigan residents.

Dr. Eric Cao, a dentist serving out of MCDC’s Kentwood office, has been in the public dental practice for more than eight years. He has served numerous communities throughout Michigan, including Greenville, Big Rapids, Hart and Muskegon. Cao said much of the same racial and class disparities in medical care carry over into dental care as well.


OutCenter also serves the community through the Safe Schools Collaborative, a multi-faceted project providing workshops on sexual orientation and gender identity to school staff. Courtesy iStock

OutCenter strives for systemic inclusion

By Rachel Watson

An LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit is offering to help the restaurant industry do better creating safe spaces for diverse patrons.

MaryJo Schnell, executive director of the OutCenter of Southwest Michigan, said inadvertent or intentional instances of discrimination can be reduced or even eliminated if restaurants will commit to helping their employees understand bias and the harmful impacts of hostile environments.

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