Exploring Grand Rapids throughout Black History Month and beyond

Stemming from Negro History Week, Black History Month is an opportunity to “celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.” 

If you are looking to get out and explore the city, now is a great time to learn more about some of the historical elements within our community — particularly those tied to Black history. Not sure where to look? Here are some photographs highlighting historical figures and attractions throughout Greater Grand Rapids to get you started.

Rosa Parks Statue

Located on the corner of Monroe Avenue and Monroe Center, the sculpture of Rosa Parks is unique. Instead of reflecting the famous Civil Rights activist sitting on the bus seat as one might expect, she is, instead, shown standing in front of it. When asked why this decision was made, sculptor Ed Dwight says, “[we] wanted to show Rosa’s strong personality and give her more dignity and presence. Rosa Parks stood up so the rest of us can take a seat.”

Helen Claytor statue

Located on Fountain Street, on the south side of Grand Rapids Community College’s campus, is the Helen Claytor statue. Having served both the national and Grand Rapids YWCA in various capacities, Claytor made her mark. As the first Black woman to serve as president of the national YWCA board of directors, Claytor led the “justice and equality imperative, specifically ‘the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary,’” which became a tenet of all YWCAs.

Lyman Parks Statue

After defeating 10 other candidates, Lyman Parks became the first, and only, Black mayor of Grand Rapids. This statue can be found on Monroe Avenue, outside of City Hall.

Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA)

Opened during ArtPrize in 2015, the Museum and Archives can be found on Monroe Center. Originally created in response to a need to highlight local African American history and educate the Grand Rapids community on African American history — both locally and around the world — the majority of GRAAMA’s exhibits and collections can be accessed free of charge. The Museum is currently in the process of moving to a larger location on the South East side of the city, with plans to open fall of 2022. Exhibit information, hours and details about supporting GRAAMA can be found on their website.


Shatawn Brigham, a Certified Level II Sommelier, saw a desire for a wine bar amongst all the breweries in Grand Rapids. Located on Division Avenue, GRNoir added a jazz element to the wine bar concept to further educate the community about the cultures of wine and jazz. Offering live performances three days a week, jazz bands come from all over to perform, Brigham says. GRNoir also provides open mic nights, spoken word and jazz professor as well as student jam nights. Learn more about their offerings and events here.

Forty Acres Soul Kitchen

Forty Acres Soul Kitchen can be found on Wealthy Street. According to co-owner Darel Ross, "the easiest entry to a culture is through food." Forty Acres is unapologetically African American, from the food and the decor to the music and overall ambiance — it’s a celebration of black culture. In addition to soul food and cognac, Forty Acres also sells merchandise, known as “Authentic Swag." Ranging from seasonings to t-shirts, the Swag highlights important dates in African American history, such as February 21, 1965, when Malcom X was assassinated and July 2, 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was signed.

Photos by Kristina Bird, Bird + Bird Studio

About Kristina Bird: Kristina Bird, co-owner of Bird + Bird Studio, a photography studio in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. Kristina has over 10 years of experience in photography, leadership and marketing. Her mission is to transform people's experience and expectations of photography, constructing uncompromising timeless photographs.

About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 15 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.

Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]
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