A southeast Grand Rapids economic development startup has chosen the fiduciary partner for its $100 million capital campaign that will launch Monday.
Preston Sain, co-founder of Black Wallstreet Grand Rapids (BWSGR), on Wednesday, June 1, signed a contract with Grand Rapids-based AQUME Foundation to be BWSGR’s fiduciary partner for its $100 million, 16-year capital campaign on which the Business Journal previously reported.
The campaign is launching Monday, June 6, and will officially begin taking meetings with investors and private donors in the community next week.
BWSGR is a startup focused on equitable economic development in eight districts, primarily on the southeast side of Grand Rapids that comprises the Third Ward, but also in a small part of the First Ward.
The eight districts include Burton Street SE and Eastern Avenue SE, Oakdale Street SE, Madison Avenue SE, Madison Avenue SE and Hall Street SE, Boston Square, Neland Avenue SE and Franklin/Martin Luther King Jr. Street SE, Franklin/Martin Luther King Jr. Street SE and Eastern Avenue SE and Grandville/Cesar E. Chavez Avenue SW (First Ward).
Sain said these areas were chosen because they are the historically Black settlement areas of Grand Rapids — but the BWSGR effort also will include economic empowerment of the city’s broader Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities.
The announcement of the fiduciary partnership was made during BWSGR’s second annual event marking the anniversary of the 1921 massacre that resulted in the destruction of the former Greenwood District, aka “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the district for which BWSGR is named. The event was held at Burton Village BBQ Company, at 803 Burton St. SE, and included the official signing of the contract with AQUME, witnessed by team members from both organizations.
The AQUME Foundation (pronounced “Acme”) was established in 2021 by Ciarra Adkins — equity analyst for the city of Grand Rapids, founding attorney of AQUME Law and a member of the GRBJ’s 2020 class of 40 Under 40 Business Leaders. (Sain also was a member of the 2020 class.) The AQUME Foundation’s mission is to effect systems-level change to eliminate the disparities in wealth and resources between white and BIPOC communities.
AQUME focuses on economic justice by providing opportunities for the BIPOC community to learn about and establish intergenerational wealth through philanthropy, estate planning, workshops and networking.
Adkins said she wanted to partner with BWSGR because its mission aligns closely with the AQUME Foundation’s.
“Our mission is racial equity and economic justice and philanthropy, and that includes building up our community,” she said. “We want to see community transformation. We want to see socioeconomic advancement for the BIPOC community, and (BWSGR’s) endeavor to rebuild those districts from buildings that have been lost by Black business owners and to retain those businesses and buildings in historically Black neighborhoods, so they are not lost to gentrification, is completely in alignment with what we’re trying to do for the community, because we know that that’s an intentional way to build wealth.”
Adkins added AQUME is championing BWSGR’s work because it wants both groups’ mission and work to be “visual and present in the community.”
“‘Our children can’t be what they can’t see’ is a phrase that’s often used. We want our community’s children of all races to be able to see that this is a way that you can make systemic and true positive change in your community,” she said. “The philanthropic space is a place where people of color typically aren’t present, so I love that this is a philanthropic economic development endeavor, and I want people to be able to see that.”
As the BWSGR capital campaign fiduciary, AQUME will receive and channel donations to BWSGR, also providing direction and oversight of the initiative’s funds, purchases, payroll and back-office functions, while receiving an administrative percentage for its services.
Sain said BWSGR during the past year-and-a-half met with “all the top nonprofits” in the area as it searched for a fiduciary, including Amplify GR, The Right Place, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League of West Michigan, the Nehemiah Project, the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, RDV Corp., the DeVos Family Foundation and many more, and every single entity expressed willingness to support and partner with BWSGR.
When it came to choosing the fiduciary, though, he said AQUME — the city’s first Black-founded and -led foundation — not only fit the bill, but Adkins demonstrated “relentless and intentional” persistence in pitching the foundation as the right candidate, and he felt the two groups would be simpatico as partners.
“When someone understands the value of something, when they know the importance of something at a high level, that holds a lot of weight,” he said.
Sain intends to continue having conversations with the other nonprofits in hopes they will make official their verbal commitments to support BWSGR’s capital campaign.
BWSGR’s goal for the capital campaign is to sign 100 organizations as either donors or equity investors that will contribute $62,500 apiece each year for 16 years to reach the campaign’s $100 million goal.
The first district it plans to start work on is Burton and Eastern, which Sain said is a “historically beloved” area for the Black community but currently is 90% vacant.
“It’s about 90 seconds away from the Alger Heights district (by car), which is a very beautiful, walkable, very vibrant business district and community, so we’ve always wanted to make Burton and Eastern beautiful and up to par with Alger Heights … but retain the equity and the inclusion and the involvement of the people who come from this neighborhood,” he said.
Business ideas for the Boston and Eastern area that the BWSGR team has been brainstorming so far include a market, coffee shop, small restaurant, flower shop, clothing store, fitness boutique and networking center.
Following the launch of the capital campaign, BWSGR plans to begin its journey presenting these ideas to the Grand Rapids City Commission at its July and August meetings for permits and zoning approval, with a goal of holding a groundbreaking on the Burton and Eastern project by late summer.
Founding members of BWSGR, who all were born and live in the BWSGR districts they will oversee, include:
- Mary Malone, who owns several buildings at Eastern and Burton, including Burton Village BBQ, and was the first to suggest revitalizing that district
- Tahj Gillespie, owner of Generation Wealthy Unity & Faith
- Sian Gillespie, manager of business operations for Gillespie Memorial Chapel
- Dalshawn Tyler, owner of Elegance Shipping and Elegance Auto Detailing
- Michael Buxton, franchise owner of Load-A-Spud Potato Bar
- Abdus Muhammad, a Nation of Islam minister of religion with the prison rehabilitation outreach Second Step Ministry of North America
- Victor Williams, CEO of Grand Stand Pictures
- Rodney Brown, administrator at Grand Rapids Public Schools
- Synia Gant-Jordan, owner of Samaria J’s Salon Suite at 701 Grandville/Cesar E. Chavez Ave. SW
Sain said while the capital campaign is launching with a focus on corporate, government and private donations, investments and partnerships, individuals who would like to get involved or make a pledge can contact BWSGR at email@example.com or AQUME at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information and updates on BWSGR are on Facebook.