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RapidChat: Raul Alvarez on advocating for an equitable GR, 'coffee just because' & more

For Raul Alvarez, life and work are all about taking the time to form relationships. His "coffee, just because" groups in Grand Rapids have gathered people together under the umbrella of individuals actually getting to spend time with one another, resulting in not only strong friendships but also many community projects. With years of PR and marketing experience under his belt, this chief communicator, storyteller and synergist is changing the way our city interacts with his own GTSD Group.

For Raul Alvarez, life and work are all about taking the time to form relationships. His "coffee, just because" groups in Grand Rapids have gathered people together under the umbrella of individuals actually getting to spend time with one another, resulting in not only strong friendships but also many community projects. With years of PR and marketing experience under his belt, this chief communicator, storyteller and synergist is changing the way our city interacts with his own GTSD Group.
Rapid Growth: When did you first move to Grand Rapids?

Raul Alvarez: August 2011.

RG: What was it like transitioning into the culture here?

RA: Having worked in Genesee County (commuting from East Lansing) for eight years, it was very apparent that the attitude was very different on the west side, and particularly in Grand Rapids. The "what's next" mentality here is vastly different from the more subdued -- at times rather passive -- attitude that I was more accustomed to prior to arriving here. But I definitely welcomed and embraced it. So it was a welcome, almost refreshing, transition and one that even after five years here I am still enjoying.

Additionally, the craft beer culture here was eye-opening to me at first, but also very much welcomed.

And one last observation: Having grown up in Holland in the 1980s, and having been away from the west side until five years ago, when I first witnessed the changes here since then and experienced the current culture -- just... wow.

RG: What do you mean in regards to Grand Rapid's “what's next” mentality?

RA: It's a proactive attitude. People in this community don't wait for things to happen - they find ways to make them happen. This is evident, and prevalent, in the community's entrepreneurial and philanthropic communities. People are innovative not just spirit, but in approaches and actions as well. This attitude also permeates when dealing with issues in the community - organizations like Well House, Equity Drinks and Equity PAC, and the Ferris State University Promesa Summer Success Program promote equitable treatment of everyone in the community. So, yes, it is always about "what's next to do, tackle or change"?  It's good stuff.

RG: You seem to surround yourself with many of these individuals?

RA: I'm not so sure it's all that, but I have enjoyed connecting with many good people and diverse circles. In addition to "crashing" events around town, and doing meeting all sorts of diverse people that make this community what it is, I do something called "coffee, just because." It is designed to be a good conversation over coffee with no agenda. It's a great way to connect, and I always enjoy meeting good people.

The love of this city for its craft beer became very evident to me when I reached out to people about "coffee, just because," as many of them suggested a late afternoon "beers, just because" connection. No complaints here.

RG: Do people seem to react more positively to the “just because” approach?

RA: That's the idea behind it. Oftentimes, in my humble opinion, today's society is way too focused on making the sale or closing the deal, and not enough in actually connecting with people. The "just because," no agenda, connections over coffee or beer are always enjoyable and enlightening for me. Friendships have been developed as a result, as have fun community projects.

RG: How does it feel to a part of Grand Rapid’s growing number of Hispanic business owners?

RA: I really had not viewed myself through that lens...but I'm certainly proud to be part of this growing group of business owners and entrepreneurs. I was certainly pleasantly surprised at the vibrancy of Hispanic ownership on this side of the state and the existence and presence, for example, of a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

RG: You have also recently begun working with Start Garden on the Cinco por Cinco Pitch Night. What inspired that collaboration?

RA: First, hats off to the good people of Start Garden for their commitment to doing this and actively reaching out to the Hispanic entrepreneurship community. My role, unofficial and assumed, was more along the PR lines and was more of an informal collaboration, and I'm quite sure it was one of the results of one of those "just because" meetings with Start Garden staff. In all seriousness, though, I have had great respect for Start Garden's work ever since I crashed one of their update nights a couple of years ago and became a regular follower and fan of their work. They're a fun, innovative and productive bunch.

RG: Do you believe this year’s election results have affected the morale of the minority community within our city? 

RA: Unfortunately, yes. No sugarcoating. It's hard to dispute that the rhetoric of the election season was divisive. The post-election discussions I have been a part of and/or privy to point to of its effect on the non-white population in our community and throughout the country. My involvement in grassroots equity-minded groups here in GR has intensified and has emboldened said-groups. So, while initially the election results shocked and may have momentarily demoralized these groups, there are plenty of energized groups and individuals ready to become more engaged and actively involved in future years.

RG: Do you feel like Grand Rapids is taking the appropriate steps to overcome some of this racial tension?

RA: I have a great deal of respect for Mayor Bliss and her leadership role in addressing this, but ultimately grassroots groups and movements like Equity PAC will play a critical role by working with city officials, other equity-minded partners and the community to challenge the divisive culture that, arguably, become prevalent in this country.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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