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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

Grand Rapids Book of The Year Author Talks History of Racism

Taylor Running
Taylor J. Photography

The author of the Grand Rapids book of the year, A City within A City, held a speaking tour in Grand Rapids last week. Todd Robinson’s A City Within A City is a history of the African American community in Grand Rapids up until 1975. Mayor Rosalynn Bliss made it the Community Reading Project’s book of the year. Which may be part of why Robinson’s talks, including one at the LINC-up Gallery, were packed.

“Grand Rapids is a very polite, a very kind, well-meaning place—I think. And I say I think because at the end of the day it seems to harken back the same result, which is a ‘no you can’t work here, no you can’t move there, no we won’t educate you over here.’”

It was that politeness Robinson says that helped suppressed meaningful change in racial equity. Specifically, he used the term “managerial racism.”

“It was the ability to manage race in the context that kept it away from any real effective change. It was the ability to say ‘we are the power structure and we are going to continue dictate and determine based upon business.’”

Mayor Bliss said the book provides a story and a framework for where we are today as a city and said that it is more than a history of African Americans.

“This is our city’s past. I mean, this happened here in Grand Rapids, to Grand Rapidians. It’s our history.”

Mariano Avila is WGVU's inclusion reporter. He has made a career of bringing voices from the margins to those who need to hear them. Over the course of his career, Mariano has written for major papers in English and Spanish, published in magazines, worked in broadcast, and produced short films, commercials, and nonprofit campaigns. He also briefly served at a foreign consulate, organized for international human rights efforts and has done considerable work connecting marginalized people to religious, educational, and nonprofit institutions through the power of story.
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