Change is "at your fingertips": 3 Grand Rapids activists speak out

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and other Black men and women due to police misconduct, new activists are finding their voices. And across the country and here in Grand Rapids, activism takes many forms. Whether speaking out, attending a protest or organizing one, or supporting the marginalized, GR activists discuss why it's important to keep showing up.

Gershom Kisubi Uredi

Gershom Kisubi Uredi, 26, is a South African immigrant who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uredi moved to the United States in 2012 after having lived many years in a South African refugee camp, and completed his education at Cornerstone University, majoring in bible and business administration.
Before moving to the United States, Uredi admits, "I was ignorant" about the historic oppression of Black people in America. "You have this narrative of people just because of what you've been told." But throughout college, Uredi's perspective on race, identity, and communities evolved as he sought to fight injustice here in Grand Rapids.
Uredi most recently became involved in the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd.
Tell me about yourself. How do you identify your racial or ethnic heritage?

I just say I'm South African most of the time. I use whatever I choose to use to benefit the person I'm talking to. I know less about Congo than I know about Burundi.

Tell me about your involvement in activism.

[The] last 3 years, I became more aware of the injustices in this country.

Seeing George Floyd's death ... made me think twice about life in America. For once, I saw myself on the ground when I was George Floyd. I said, that could have been me.

I felt there is no way I can be quiet about this. That is a truth I can no longer accept.

This country was supposed to be made around the name, 'We the people,' but I feel like it's only made for some people.

What changes do you hope to see?

My end goal is to reach an understanding ... the understanding that people have been wrongly taken care of, wrongly abused ... and for people to understand that people are experiencing actual pain.

America has never provided a safe space for black people to [be heard]. I feel like some of the nation has come together to work together to make it better for everyone else ... and some of the nation is still holding onto the ideology of white America.

Yeah we have a past that is conflicted, but we can create a future that is united.

It's going to take a  lot of time ... but if we continue with this movement, continue pushing though, I feel like a lot of change is taking place.

Why is it important to keep showing up?

It is good that we have come together as a community to cry together but now it is the little changes that matter. How long will we keep the energy to demand changes? It is very important we keep those in power under pressure to create a better tomorrow for all. 

Isabel Delgado

Isabel Delgado, 19, was born and raised in Grand Rapids and graduated from Wellspring Preparatory High School in 2019. She has plans to attend GRCC in the fall full time. Recently, Delgado planned the March for Breonna Taylor, a Grand Rapids native who was killed by police in her own home in Lousville, KY. In the march description, Delgado writes:

"After a brief confrontation with Taylor, they fired several shots at her and struck her at least eight times. Eight. Times. In her own home. Breonna was born and raised in Grand Rapids. We as a city owe it to her to fight for her. We need to fight to bring her and her family to justice."

Tell me about yourself. How do you identify your racial or ethnic heritage?
I identify as an Afro-Latina. My father is Afro-Caribbean, and my mother is of Spanish descent. They are both Puerto Rican. 
Have you participated in activism in the past?
I have always been an activist for social justice. I have participated in marches, and have worked on different political campaigns.
What initially inspired you to plan this march for Breonna Taylor?
This is just the first time in my life that I have planned a protest.
We as a country always forget about Black women. Black women are the foundation of this country, and what keeps this country alive and moving. Yet when they are killed by police or experience police brutality we seem to forget about them.
Yes, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery are extremely important, and we should fight and march for them, but we do not have the same energy for Breonna. If we did, I feel like the officers that killed her would be fired and arrested by now. And that has still not happened. And I want that to change. We simply cannot forget about Black women.

What do you hope is achieved through this and similar events in the communities of Greater Grand Rapids?
I hope that through this protest/event that people get to know Ms. Taylor in a new light. A human being. Someone that was loved. I hope people get to know Breonna's case a little bit better and get to know her better as a person. My hope is for people to know that change is right at their fingertips. It's literally a phone call, text, or email away. Hashtags fade, but a life lost does not. 
Why is it important to keep showing up?
We won’t get justice until everyone does their part. So while yes it’s important to show up to protests, but it’s also important to show up everywhere. That means voting, signing petitions, donating money to organizations dedicated to the movement etc. We need to show up there too. It’s all just as important. 

DeeDee Chaunte

DeeDee Chaunte, 27, is originally from Detroit, and moved to Grand Rapids about five years ago. Chaunte is a talented drag performer and self-described "High Energy Entertainer, an Awesome Host, and the LITTLE Legend herself!"
After attending the first major Black Lives Matter protest in Grand Rapids four weeks ago, Chaunte sought to maintain a continued presence for the cause downtown. Partnering with friends and other local activists, Chaunte formed Family Over Everything (FOE), an organization that has taken up residence on the corner of Pearl and Monroe for the past month in order to form a continued protest against racial injustice and police brutality. For four weeks, FOE has actively protested for 10 hours per day, 12 to 10 p.m. every day.
Tell me about yourself. How do you identify your racial or ethnic heritage?

I am African American.

Tell me about your involvement in activism.

I've been active as an activist for maybe about a month and a half now. This Black Lives Matter movement is my first time being an organizer or being involved in this form.

I came downtown Grand Rapids for the very first protest that was peaceful during the day and turned riot at night...Coming down the very next day and seeing the community to rebuild this space by way of buildings, making sure the city looked good after a night of was wonderful and sad at the same time.

[It's] wonderful to see so many people wanting to be involved...sad to see that no one cared about the people who lived here also, and the people are  who we should be caring about, not the items, the tangible things. Human life should be so much more valued over these buildings. At that point, I had to make a team and we had to figure out what we were going to do to make our voices heard for the people who don't have  a voice.

It was really affirming to be able to see people speaking out and speaking up and using their platform, whatever that may be.

What changes do you hope to see?

I hope that we could see a change in how the system itself is operated when it comes to Black people, when it comes to marginalized people, when it comes to people that just don't have as much. I hope that the billionaires would catch the point.

All Black lives matter. Black Trans lives. Black children. Black doctors. Black homeless. Black everyone. I feel like a lot of work is being done on a lot of levels. Both community and legislative.

Why is it important to keep showing up?

We participated in the Breonna Taylor March. It was her cousin who said, "keep applying pressure." At that point, we were at like two weeks that we've been out here...

"Now we need to be out here even more. We were putting in 70 hours plus a week just protesting. I think that is what the cousin wants. That is what the family wants. They apply peaceful pressure.


Images for this story were submitted to Rapid Growth from those that were interviewed.
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