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A City Within A City: Todd Robinson returns to Grand Rapids


It may not have been Oprah’s book of the month selection, but Todd Robinson’s 2013 “A City Within A City” received the same kind of local sales bump the former queen of afternoon talk shows could generate.

Shortly after her first State of the City address, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss named "A City Within a City” as the "Mayor's Book of the Year." Thursday, Mar. 24 readers and local history buffs will have an opportunity to hear Robinson share insights on his current local bestseller at Linc Up

Published through Temple University Press, “A City Within A City” is a historical first look at the segregation and the 20th century black freedom experience set in the midsize American city of Grand Rapids.

“What Robinson does so provocatively well is strongly support that the historical narratives of secondary cities are of equal importance in understanding both black communities and the racialized urban landscape of the United States,” says Dr. Randal Maurice Jelks, Grand Rapids resident and an Associate Professor of American Studies with a joint appointment in African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas. “This book is certainly destined to be a much-talked-about volume, and the author is to be commended.”

Jelks, also the author of “African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids,” brought Robinson’s book to light in our community when it was released.  

Now 2016 and combined with the timing of contemporary news events around the U.S. as well as a recent article by Forbes Magazine outlining the inequities of Grand Rapids’ African-Americans earnings potential in our city, Robinson’s "A City Within a City” is arriving right on time. 

But to think this book and community event with Robinson is an attempt to simply make one ponder about their city experience is to miss the point: Each of us have a path in this world, and no two are alike. However, when we can gather and listen, then we can begin to shore up the inequities that often happen around us with our knowledge.

Racism is taught and then handed down to the next generation. Grand Rapids, as portrayed in this insightfully rich historical book, shows that we designed this “other city” experience for our African American citizens — but the story does not end with our past. 

Rather, I am reminded of words of others who also shared difficult times in their nation and rose to the challenges to change it. 
 
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” - Nelson Mandela. 

Let’s be that generation in this city that sets our future history truly up right. 

Admission: This is a free program provided by GVSU’s Kutsche Office of Local History.
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