When I first started as a freshman at Cornerstone University back in 2013, I was so excited to be living in Grand Rapids, a city rich with history, art and culture. Every February, GR celebrates Black History Month with a collection of events and opportunities honoring African American culture and traditions.
Here are 12 ways to celebrate Black History Month in Grand Rapids!
It’s important to celebrate Black History Month, but that can’t be done without an understanding of the historical struggles of the African American population in our community and our country.
BLACK HISTORY WALKING TOUR
This free tour, which begins downtown at Rosa Parks Circle, examines the African American culture in Grand Rapids from 1826 until today! There are several opportunities to take this tour, but make sure to pre-register.
SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOUR
If a guided tour isn’t your style, I’d recommend downloading the GRWalks app and you can go on an interactive, self-guided tour with 11 stops throughout the city. In less than two hours, you’ll learn podcast-style about select historical highlights of the African American Experience in GR, including our first African American mayor, historic Fountain Street Church and more!
THE GRAND RAPIDS AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES
The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) is open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Focused on the tradition of oral storytelling, the museum features exhibits that honor the lives of local African American people. During the month of February, GRAAMA is hosting, “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement,” an interactive kiosk featuring interviews with leaders of the struggle for equal rights.
Whether your budget is big or small, there are plenty of entertainment options in Grand Rapids to celebrate Black History Month!
MICHAEL JR. AT CORNERSTONE UNIVERSITY
Kick off Black History Month on Feb. 1 right here at Cornerstone by attending a comedy show featuring nationally-acclaimed African American Christian comedian Michael Jr. This event is family-friendly and benefits New Creations Prison Ministries.
SYMPHONY WITH SOUL
Celebrating African American musical expression, the Grand Rapids Symphony brings you Symphony with Soul on Feb. 29, 2020. Don’t miss this event, which includes special guest Terence Blanchard, a renowned composer and jazz trumpeter.
The buzz around GR is palpable as the smash-hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” is playing at DeVos Performance Hall through Feb. 9. The show interprets the founding of our country through an African American musical idiom. If you “threw away your shot” to purchase tickets, download the Hamilton app to enter the daily lottery for a chance to win $10 tickets. I just might be listening to the soundtrack as I write this post.
When you’re eating out this month, be sure to check out these African American owned eateries. These are just a few of the many options in and around Grand Rapids!
MALAMIAH JUICE BAR
This past July, I attended a panel event in GR where I heard from Jermale Eddie, owner and co-founder of Malamiah Juice bar. I was inspired by his mission to encourage community wellness through serving nutritious products and being a resource when it comes to healthy living. The menu at Malamiah Juice Bar includes acai bowls, smoothies, juices and more!
DADDY PETE’S BBQ
If you’re craving some slow-smoked BBQ, Daddy Pete’s will not disappoint! I first had Daddy Pete’s BBQ from their food truck during ArtPrize and let me tell you—delicious! They have a small to-go location and also offer catering options.
THE CHEZ OLGA
This Haitian restaurant offers creole and Caribbean eats, and it comes highly recommended by my coworker Dennis Graham, director of alumni relations.
During college, my love and understanding for art grew through my Imagination in Culture course at Cornerstone. I love that Grand Rapids has endless opportunities to explore art, and Black History Month is no exception!
“THE CONTINUAL STRUGGLE”: GERALD R. FORD MUSEUM
Beginning on Feb. 20, “The Continual Struggle” exhibit at Gerald R. Ford depicts the struggles, hurt and emotions of those who fought for freedom during the civil rights movement.
TASTE OF SOUL: GRAND RAPIDS PUBLIC LIBRARY
Don’t miss the Taste of Soul event on Sunday, Feb. 16. This free event at GRPL will celebrate African American art, music, literature, history and food.
BROWSE THE BRONZE STATUES
You can always stroll downtown and check out the bronze sculptures commemorating former Grand Rapids Mayor Lyman Parks, the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks and civil rights activist Helen Claytor, who was the first president of both the Grand Rapids YWCA and the national YWCA.
I hope you’ll take advantage of all that Grand Rapids has to offer during Black History Month! If you’re on campus, be sure to stop by Miller Library for their Black History Month book recommendations!