Emerging Leaders: an auspicious name in such a time of flux for a series on developing as professionals in the Grand Rapids community. There’s no doubt about it- the past year has been taxing for all of us. Michigan has been hit, and hit, and hit again, our fatigue beginning to show outwardly as the weather turns warmer and we miss the people, the restaurants, the events and the communities within the city that we love so much. The absolute, tangible buzz that is felt every year across West Michigan when Spring arrives had to be shelved last year, while we continued to stay indoors, in fear of getting too close to anyone, fretting about toilet paper and trading festivals and picnics, cookouts and sports, for the safety of ourselves and those we care about. We missed the really, really good stuff for an entire season.
No Whitecaps games, no Tulip Time Festival, no Pride, no Movies in the Park, no Lunchtime Concert Series in Rosa Parks Circle. Spring 2020 was cancelled, and we are collectively over it. The good news is, we’re getting vaccinated. There’s an end in sight. We may not know exactly when it will be, but the prospect of being able to enjoy a semi-normal late-spring doesn’t look to be completely out of the question. By the end of the year, we hope, we will have forgotten it ever happened.
Something else also happened last year – something that I hope our community never forgets – and that includes the murder of George Floyd last May and the protests that followed. The collective trauma of the black community in our area came to a head, in some cases spurring intense feelings of anger that resulted in the destruction of many of our buildings downtown. There was outcry from every direction and with an imposed curfew, we were all even further cut off from each other and from our city. Then something beautiful happened.
Into the debris and broken glass, we came together to clean it all up, somber and respectful of the gravity of it all. The understanding that many of us don’t understand. A show of unity and care for our city emerged through the chaos. The boarded windows became beacons of hope. Conversations – the big ones that we’d been avoiding – began taking place at every level. We started talking.
As I sat through the first session of our Emerging Leaders series, getting to know my fellow participants and listening to the stories of those who are bringing major help and hope to our businesses and our community, the title of the series no longer seemed so auspicious. It seemed real, and it seemed ever-present. With presentations on local environment issues, non-profit impact, and the hugely important topic of implicit bias, everyone was all ears. After a few getting-to-know-you activities and John Ball Zoo animal-watching, it was clear we were becoming more comfortable with each other. We were in a safe space.
Within a safe environment, and after a year of being so disconnected from collaboration, the Emerging Leaders that I am exceedingly proud to be amongst are ready. We are ready to learn. We’re ready to share what we learn, and we’re ready for the big conversations.
Side note: Kent County is currently down to one day of blood supply. One. Versiti Blood, along with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, have created a challenge for the participants of our session. Keep your eyes on your social media events because Grand Rapids, your emerging leaders are out for blood.