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Community Reception for Dr. Rasheda Weaver, GRNS Keynote Speaker

There are plenty of networking events in the city, but there is only one local happy hour that seeks to welcome a very special guest to our city, while at the same time will help instill excitement for the 4th annual Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit

And while the Neighborhood Summit starts on Saturday at the downtown GVSU Pew Campus, Friday night is a kick off event at LINC Up to welcome the annual neighborhood event's keynote speaker Dr. Rasheda Weaver, Assistant Professor of Community Entrepreneurship, University of Vermont.

From Dr. Weaver’s bio: She received a PhD in Public Affairs-Community Development and a Master of Science in Public Affairs at Rutgers University. She graduated valedictorian from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development with a Master of Arts in Applied Psychology and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Herbert H. Lehman College.

Also at LINC Up on Friday, organizers will be welcoming other activities including live music BG's (the Back Grounders) and PJ DA DJ Sound & Entertainment, powerful spoken word, a cash bar, community vendors and other amenities that you have come to enjoy in conjunction with LINC Up’s First Friday Urban Networking Parties over the years in the Madison Square neighborhood.

A special thanks goes out to the hosts as well as the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Latina Network of West Michigan for presenting this welcoming event for Dr. Weaver.
For those hoping to attend Saturday’s summit, you will want to register in advance (pending availability) at this web address. The theme of this year’s event is “Going Beyond A Seat At The Table” and will address the need for economic equity and opportunity in our city’s neighborhoods as well as how to leverage resident wisdom in decisions that impact them.

Grand Rapids residents, neighborhood associations, business owners and associations, and stakeholders are encouraged to attend this annual event that is always packed with some pretty amazing voices from our city.

Soul Clap & Dance Off with DJ Jonathan Toubin: Getting your sweat on downtown this Saturday

Fresh from performing in Bushwick, NY on Friday, comes DJ act Soul Club to Grand Rapids this Saturday night for what promises to be the biggest dance party to invade the city this year at The Pyramid Scheme. 

Billed as Soul Clap & Dance Off because of DJ Jonathan Toubin’s contribution of his massive collection of 45s that are made up of 50s/60s rock’n’roll, soul, r+b, and Motown, this night’s event promises to be a beautiful and fun deep dive into early dance music culture. 

The night will also feature special appearances from Hollywood Makeout and Grand Rapids Soul Club, as well as chance to compete in a dance off where the winner will be awarded $100. 

And while the Wall Street Journal may not motivate folks concerned about nightlife activities, this quote really sums up what to expect from this night: “The long-running Soul Clap remains one of the sweatiest dance parties to be experienced in New York City. Fueled by his rare and raucous 45s collection, DJ Jonathan Toubin draws on raw soul and the most feral strains of rock ‘n’ roll from the early 1960s to power the nights.” (Wall Street Journal, 2014)

Grand Rapids Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force—Public Meeting

Over the last few years, many cities around the nation who value their citizenry and seek to modernize their community’s policing have been organizing around the guidelines that were released in 2015 by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 21st Century Policing Report.

Grand Rapids has long recognized the role of community-policing and now more than ever the populace here recognizes the importance of healthy neighborhood relations.

On Wednesday night, the public is invited to join other community members at the downtown Grand Rapids Public Library to learn what the City of Grand Rapids is putting in place via our Grand Rapids Police Policy and Procedure Review Task Force.

The goals of this citizen- and police-led committee, who are embarking on this journey, is to provide a platform for effective law enforcement policies that respect the rights and dignity of all residents and to discuss how best to fold in those nationwide best practices set forth in the 21st Century Policing Report. 

Attendees will have an opportunity to give input to the committee via the roundtable discussions that is made up of area residents, law enforcement officers, and nationally recognized consultants. These quarterly meetings will continue as a way for the task force to check in with our city’s residents on this important work as they review the GRPD’s policies and procedures to identify and eliminate those that may result in racial bias.

As a primer, these are the main target areas that the 21st Century Policing Implementation Guidebook outlines as effective strategies to help communities, law enforcement, and local government implement recommendations. 

From their summaries from the DOJ’s October 2015 release of this report, these are the areas of focus.

1. Engage with local law enforcement; participate in meetings, surveys, and other activities.
2. Participate in problem-solving efforts to reduce crime and improve quality of life.
3. Work with local law enforcement to ensure crime-reducing resources and tactics are being deployed that mitigate unintended consequences.
4. Call on state legislators to ensure that the legal framework does not impede accountability for law enforcement.
5. Review school policies and practices, and advocate for early intervention strategies that minimize involvement of youth in the criminal justice system.

Law enforcement
1. Review and update policies, training, and data collection on use of force, and engage community members and police labor unions in the process.
2. Increase transparency of data, policies, and procedures.
3. Call on the POST Commission to implement all levels of training.
4. Examine hiring practices and ways to involve the community in recruiting.
5. Ensure officers have access to the tools they need to keep them safe.

Local government
1. Create listening opportunities with the community.
2. Allocate government resources to implementation.
3. Conduct community surveys on attitudes toward policing, and publish the results.
4. Define the terms of civilian oversight to meet the community’s needs.
5. Recognize and address holistically the root causes of crime.

Winter Beer Festival: Now with a Friday option!

For many years, when the tickets would go on sale for the annual Winter Beer Festival held each February at the Fifth Third Ballpark (parking lot), they would be sold within minutes of their release.

You can imagine the heartbreak of beer fans from here and far away who wanted to make the trek to our beer-built city’s premier event devoted to the love and tastes of Michigan’s beer industry. 

Lucky for us that while the Saturday event still does sell out in record time, the event organizers have opened up Friday nights over the last few years for those who could not score a ticket to still come and enjoy the festivities at the ballpark under the cover of the night’s sky. 

The annual Winter Beer Festival features over 100 Michigan breweries who will roll in barrels of nearly 1,000 different craft beers to this frozen brewer’s paradise. Both days’ events include live local music, a plethora of ice sculptures, and plenty of food options, including the festival signature giant turkey legs for your inner caveman that you can enjoy around a fire pit to chase the chill away.

Seriously, if you love beer and have never experienced a Winter Beer Festival, then this is one of those signature events within our state that is a “must visit” event. And for those who can’t make Saturday work, then lucky you that it now includes a fun and just as festive Friday option. 

For complete news on this event including all the breweries showcased this year, please visit the festival’s website

Hidden Gems: Artists helping create a new generation of artists

This city loves a good fundraiser but few rarely rise to the level of excitement like one planned for this Saturday night at a tiny bar within the North Monroe’s budding warehouse district. 

Billed as “Hidden Gems,” this event seeks to raise awareness as well as your spirits (since it is the weekend after all) with a night of live bands, DJs, and art for the benefit of our local The Crescendo Foundation—a Grand Rapids nonprofit that provides affordable music lessons for kids ages eight to 16.

For the low cost of $10 (remember, it is a fundraiser) you will be able to enter this multi-level bar for an out of this world art experience with a diverse line up of music with local and guest artists.

For those looking to time their arrival with their favorite act’s appearance, here is the schedule available at this time:

8:30 p.m. - Sandra Effert with Patty PerShayla

9:30 p.m. - Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish 

11:30 p.m. - DJ NEGLIGENCE (of Exposure Therapy)

12:30 p.m. -  DJ dynja (Detroit)

In addition, guests will have a chance to purchase works from artists like Angelea Torralva, Esan Sommersell, or Clock in the Sky art by Kit Clock.

And while we know folks have a lot of options to consider when choosing a fundraiser, Hidden Gems is shaping up to be one of those “don’t miss it” art events of the season. Scencesters beware, this one is eclectic by design and fresh/chill, so leave attitudes at the door for the best experience.

Learn more about The Crescendo Foundation here.

Who tells the story: Unpacking conversations around art and race

Tuesday, Feb. 27, 5:30 p.m. reception, 6:30 p.m. lecture
During ArtPrize 9, one of its best on record in my opinion, the topic of culture appropriation as it relates to race took center stage at a variety of venues or within the various works presented therein. 

And while the topic does not always have clear lines to those artists creating the works, there are moments within the public where those lines are clearly crossed. 

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, cultured.GR, the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA), and Fountain Street Church invite artists and art fans to join them for a free, special double feature event with a panel discussion on “Who Tells the Story: Unpacking the conversations around art and race” and a closing reception for the Keeler Gallery’s exhibition, "African American Artists Tell the Story.”

The night’s panel will include 2017 ArtPrize artists Monroe O'Bryant, Ericka Thompson (Kyd Kane), and Sofía Ramirez-Hernandez, with Steffanie Rosalez moderating. 

As outlined by the event’s organizers, “this panel discussion is designed to address these questions and move towards action that is more intentional, respectful, and honoring of people of color.”  

I know it will be a fascinating night and one that I hope will spill over into the community and not be ensconced in the choir loft…er, the metaphorical choir loft. 

Butterflies are Blooming: Signs of Spring’s return float into Grand Rapids

Opening Thursday, Mar. 1, 9 a..m. (through April 30)
With the ending of winter soon on our horizon, the itch for warmer weather often sends folks flying to warmer climates.

But not every budget can handle a trip to warm, tropical-like places like Key West, so lucky for us there is the 13th annual Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition at Meijer Gardens.

What started more than a decade ago as a chance to showcase the various exotic butterflies at The Gardens’ tropical conservatory has blossomed to become the nation’s largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibition.

Boosting more than 7000 beautifully colored butterflies that hail from 50 different species, this annual affair attracts guests from local school field trips to tourists who venture each springtime to experience this once-a-year affair.

The annual event is not just a chance to experience warm 85 degrees often on days that still dip below freezing in a conservatory at 70 percent humidity. It is just what the doctor ordered if you are getting tired of winter (which official does not end until March 21).

Butterflies Are Blooming also offers an array of programming options including special members-only events like those night walks for adults only. These special night events could be a great place to meet someone new, too. I mean, how cool would it be that you met maybe the love of your life at a tropical conservatory observing the wonder and beauty of nature instead of over yet again another pint of a local IPA? 

For all their programming options, visit the Butterflies Are Blooming page at the Meijer Gardens website.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit: Theatre of the unknown debuts here

Unlike anything else that you have experienced on our local theatrical stages comes Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” a fresh and rare production where every night is a new opportunity to experience something truly remarkable. 

First off, the production features a different guest star in the lead role each night and kicks off once the solo actor is handed a sealed script that they have not read or seen to perform cold for the audience. 

All this happens without the aid of all the usual trappings associated with theatre, with no director, no rehearsals, nor a designed set. Right at the start under this premise, you know we are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. 

“Rabbits is truly a unique living breathing avant-garde theatrical experience. Never before has an audience along with the performer stepped into a script together for the very first time,” says Actors’ Theatre of Grand Rapids’ Executive Director Kyle Los.  “It's a raw and intimate. No moment, reaction, or emotion can be pre-crafted or curated.”

The performers selected by Actors’ are highly trained in their craft but will call upon them to focus all that they've learned up to this point. The cast of local actors performing “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” includes Jon Clausen, Laure Walczak, Amy McFadden, Greg Rogers, Jolene Frankey, Joe Anderson, Todd Lewis, and Randy Wyatt. 

This is rare and nail-biting theatre and you only have eight chances to see the production that took off-Broadway by storm. Something inside of me thinks given the line up of talent that we may see a lot of repeat viewings given the nature of this production. 

Black Panther: A new superhero leaps to the big screen

There has not been a more exciting moment for the superhero cinema genre than right now as the nation prepares for a game-changing new film. For if the numbers hold, then “Black Panther” will opens nationwide on February 16 as a true blockbuster.

When folks started tracking the pre-sales of “Black Panther,” they were shocked that what was once forecasted as a $125 million opening has now logged in more than $150 million-plus in advance ticketing. 

But we could have seen this momentum coming after the teaser dropped a year ago and racked up an astonishing 89 million views in less than 24 hours. Rarely do we hear the roar of a game changer like “Black Panther.”

Part of its attraction is that “Black Panther” is not just the latest in a series of vintage Marvel superheroes to hit the big screen, but more importantly it is the fact that it showcases a nearly all black cast centered on a multi-layered story with a nearly all black cast centered on a story with roots in Africa.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, “Black Panther,” as a big-budget studio film, has no equal and there is one good reason why so many are anticipating its debut. 

The film stars notable actors like Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.

“Black Panther” is the story of T’Challa who is the heir apparent to the throne of the fictional land of Wakanda, a tiny country hidden for centuries. Within this country hides the source of a powerful secret: as this nation is in the sole possession of vibranium, an alien element acquired from a fallen meteor. (It is also the same metal used in Captain America’s shield.) 

As the world expands around them, the isolation of Wakanda remains difficult once it is revealed they hold so much of vibranium. After T’Challa’s father is cruelly assassinated (not a spoiler), this new, young king will learn to wield a suit made of vibranium to become the Black Panther and a warrior for his people. 

We understand that the cinema is a year round industry, but when you look at all of the factors leading up to this fresh debut, it is hard not to be Christmas-like happy when a film like “Black Panther” arrives in the theaters. “Black Panther” is ushering in a new era of filmmaking that is thrilling, inspiring, but, most of all, about to set a new bar vibranium-tough for future films to emulate and follow.

Taste of Soul Sunday: Revamped and more relevant than ever

The city is full of options each year that seek to celebrate the legacy and meaning of Black History Month. And while we have many choices, one organization, our downtown Grand Rapids Public Library, has a plethora of educational programming that flows throughout the month, offering a diverse array of topics and experiences. 

By far the library’s (and possibly the city’s) biggest event during Black History Month is its Taste of Soul Sunday, where they invite locals to come downtown and experience African American history and culture.

What makes this year’s sensational programming really soar is that the GRPL held a community focus group over the summer of 2017 to garner insights and feedback from the community. The result of this listening session is a freshly revamped and lively event rooted even more in our local culture and Black experience, but also one that ventures into the headlines of the days we find ourselves living. 

Organized into easy-to-navigate categories of Listen, Learn, Create, Eat, and Preserve, the GRPL welcomes everyone to venture down this Sunday for a truly remarkable afternoon that moves beyond just the “Taste” experience that draws so many to this venue each year. 

Scheduled to appear at Sunday’s GRPL Taste of Soul Sunday event are:

– Karisa Wilson Music
– Zion Lion
– Noel Webley and Jazzy Friends Quintet
– Julius J. Hight featuring Bedrock

– A Team of Her Own: Minnie Forbes & Negro League Baseball
– The Spirit of South High School
– From Jackie Robinson to Kaepernick: A Brief History of Athlete Activism with Dr. Louis Moore

– What Does Your Name Mean to You? Poetry Workshop with Fable the Poet and The Diatribe.
– Crafts for Kids

– NoLos Soul
– IRIE Kitchen
– Big Ed's BBQ
– Mosbyspopcorn

The “Preserve” portion of the program is where the public contributes to deepen this event and future ones by sharing their story. 

GRPL and the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) invite attendees to bring down to the downtown branch their personal family photographs, letters, and journals during Taste of Soul Sunday. These items will be digitized along with your spoken word narrative about how your personal history contributes to the story of our community. 

This event is free and open to the public and is made possible through the funding of the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation. You can see the posted performance times at GRPL's website.

Drunken Retort: Black History spoken aloud

Over the last five years, a group of spoken word artists have been gathering downtown at Stella’s Lounge for a night of performances organized under the header “The Drunken Retort.” (2018 is their fifth anniversary.) 

And while the team made up of AutoPilot, Rachel Gleason, and Fable the Poet have often used their Monday night platform to elevate this art form, locally inviting other poets to join them on the stage as guest performers, for The Drunken Retort’s Black History night on February 19, the star is you and your voice. 

This group of artists invite folks to come down and share pieces reflecting Black excellence, freedom, greatness, hip-hop, and all things related to Black History.

This centering on the experience and lives of black people has the power to transform an audience, too, because when one shares their personal history, something begins to shift under the weight of this community perspective.

And while they enjoy hosting guest poets, these theme nights, according to Fable the Poet, are wonderful and unique because they focus on keeping it “strictly local.”

Folks who want to see how the event works with black nationally known poets—and 80 percent of those featured at The Drunken Retort are Black/Brown poets from all across the country— you can return on March 5th when they welcome Natasha T. Miller to Grand Rapids.

The Drunken Retort is part of a series of programming in the city that through their performances in our area help transform all of us who witness this powerful art form. Don’t miss this unique Black History Month event in the Heartside neighborhood of downtown.

LaFontsee Galleries: 30 years of incredible views

It is hard to imagine those days in 1987 when LaFontsee Galleries (then called The Underground Studio) opened in a tiny space on Grand Street in the middle of a neighborhood just east of Heritage Hill.

Back then if you were looking to purchase art, you had to visit Eastown, the Amway Grand Hotel, or the mall. And even then, the costs to secure a work of art was out of reach for most of us who were looking to take down our Spencer Gifts’ Erté prints or posters we inherited from our college days or Believe in Music.

Over time, proprietors Scott and Linda LaFontsee began to crack the local art code, first welcoming local artists (most often students or faculty from area colleges), and then later expanding upon their representation to include national artists. (Full disclosure: I was one of those local artists they carried in the 1990s and into the early aughts until I left for a lakeshore gallery.) 

The best memories of the decades since has been watching the community grow over time to welcome more original art into their homes and businesses. Another found memory is the receptions, which in the early days was how the local artists community connected, since there truly was so little to do back then related to fine art.

And while many of the galleries that used to dot our city map have shuttered their doors, LaFontsee kept on plugging away as the city grew. They even opened a gallery in Douglas over the years after beta testing that market with a series of what is best described as temporary or pop-up spaces until they built a brand new building at this lakeshore community. 

On Friday night, LaFontsee Galleries is celebrating turning 30 and will be hosting a special art reception with live music, refreshments, fresh art, and so much more. In fact, advance notices indicate that their entire crop of artists will have work up on this special night so you will not want to miss this one if you are in the market to discover a new artist or secure a work of art. 

In addition, the gallery will be donating during the month of February 5 percent of all retail sales to two local arts organizations: The Cook Arts Center and Artists Creating Together. So by supporting local artists you are also doing good, too, this month. 

Jammie Awards XIX: Grand Rapids Grammys

The timing of the annual Grammys Awards ceremony is always an exciting time because it means that we are just a few days away from our own local music awards show, The Jammies.

Recognizing West Michigan's best albums and songs of 2017, the Jammies XIX, presented by WYCE 88.1 FM, used to be held on a weeknight until 2013 when the event took a huge leap under then station director Kevin Murphy’s leadership and vision. And to say the least, there has been no going back since this move brought so much fresh energy to the two stages it is held on Friday night.

Now the awards show has become a cultural flashpoint for our area music fans who show up en masse to cheer on their favorite acts.

And if you think this will be just another Jammies, then look at the XIX lineup scheduled to perform this year at the Intersection. And don’t leave after the awards since WYCE invites you to stay for an after party featuring Desmond Jones.

WYCE Jammie Awards XIX Official Lineup, which includes many acts who have never performed before at our local awards show:

Showroom Stage
5:30 Wicker Basket
6:00 Award Presentation: Listener Choice Awards [Best Album & Best Album by a New Artist]
6:05 Dan Rickabus
6:23 Award Presentation: Special Jury Prize [Best Album & Best New Artist] (Critics Choice)
6:28 Cameron Blake
6:46 Award Presentation: The "Traditions!" Award & Best Roots/Revival Album
6:51 The Founding
7:09 Award Presentation: Electronic Album of the Year & Hip-Hop Album
7:14 Yolonda Lavender
7:32 Award Presentation: Best Jazz Album
7:37 Jake Kershaw
7:55 Award Presentation: Best Rock or Pop Album
8:00 Mark Lavengood
8:18 Award Presentation: Best Blues/Soul Album of the Year
8:23 Hollywood Makeout
8:41 Award Presentation: Best Americana Album
8:46 organissimo
9:04 Award Presentation: Best Alternative Album
9:09 May Erlewine
9:30 Award Presentation: Best Contemporary Folk
9:50 Lipstick Jodi
Award Presentation: Song of the Year
10:15 ConvoTronics
Award Presentation: Best New Artist
10:35 Afro Zuma
10:55 Award Presentation: Album of the Year

The Stache Stage
5:40 B-Side Growlers
6:10 Brian Koenigsknecht
6:40 Thunderbolt & Lightfoot
7:05 Hannah Laine
7:30 Justin Avdek & The Underground Circus
8:00 Bigfoot Buffalo
8:25 Blushing Monk
8:55 Major Murphy
9:20 Tom Hymn
9:50 Hannah Rose & The GravesTones
10:15 Lazy Genius

All Ages Welcome | Doors: 5:30PM
$5 Suggested donation to your community radio station WYCE

Black Girl Magic Showcase: Beer Month’s bright spot

As the city prepares to celebrate GR Beer Month, the Creston Brewery—the city’s only black owned brewery—continues to test their community-focused model in the heart of the Creston neighborhood with a special new event that places the focus on black women entrepreneurs.

This day long event that stretches into late night is being called Black Girl Magic and is the brainchild of Bri Ross and Kyd Kane.

These two powerful women have invited area Black women of our community to showcase their creations and services for all those who  venture.

In addition to checking out new vendors to add to your life, you can sip on a delicious beer that is probably named after so historical or significant event that has roots in our city.

At 7 p.m., the event welcomes to the stage Bri Ross and Kyd Kane, who will both be performing spoken word poetry. 

Immediately following at 8 p.m. the brewery will convert into a dance party keeping the energy flowing into the evening as DJ’s Sun*Rise and SuperDre take to the 1s and 2s. 

Creston Brewery is extremely proud to be a Black owned brewery in the great beer city that is Grand Rapids!

The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome here until 9 p.m. when it becomes a 21+ venue.

We know you have a lot of choices, but Black Girl Magic is definitely something worth investing some time and cash as the city advances to make more room for others. In a beautiful way, you get to be a part of making the magic happen here. And that is why we might be worth being called “cool” a bit longer. 

fierce pussy: Old school activists still relevant

It is hard to imagine a time without a home computer and a printer to produce the materials one needs to have your voice heard on a topic. But this is the realities of the era that would produce fierce pussy, a collective of queer women artists in New York City in 1991.

Their "giving a care" drive in the face of a nation’s complacent silence as the raging AIDS epidemic was killing so many people sparked a new era of activism that feels very DIY by the standards of today’s tools. 

Because of their contributions, they were able to mobilize folks around LGBT rights, but also ushered in via their group, fierce pussy, a lesbian identity and visibility we had not seen before.

Over the years, fierce pussy projects have included wheat pasting handmade posters on the street, renaming New York City streets after prominent lesbian heroines, re-designing the restroom at the LGBT community center, harnessing PDF’s for activism, and even venturing into video production by creating PSAs. The body of their work has been the subject of numerous installations and exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, fierce pussy—who is known for using literally almost any creative means necessary like old typewriters, found photographs, their own baby pictures, and the printing supplies and equipment accessible in their day jobs — will be at Grand Valley State University's Allendale campus for a special lecture on their artwork in the area of political art. 

For those who are curious about the power of artists collectives or are just curious about the viewpoints of artists who during the AIDS crisis tried just about everything to turn the tide on this epidemic, then this is a historic opportunity for our community to experience. 

fierce pussy’s appearance here in West Michigan is also tied to events happening at GVSU starting Feb. 14. 
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