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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.

Race in Grand Rapids a letdown to Obama advisor

Mariano Avila

An advisor to President Obama on matters of race and policing met with Grand Rapids community leaders Monday morning. 

Leighton Watson says he’s disappointed to hear that communities of color in Grand Rapids are struggling with the same issues as people in Charlotte, Ferguson and New York.

“I went to Forest Hills Northern. So, this Forest Hills Central situation wasn’t a surprise to me at all. I had friends that left Forest Hills Central their freshman year. Ten Black families left to come to Forrest Hills Northern, most of my friends were included in that group, just to get away from that same mind set.”

Watson was part of a task force that advised President Barak Obama following the crisis in Ferguson. Monday morning, the Grand Rapids native met with two dozen community leaders at the LINC Gallery on the SE side of Grand Rapids to talk about issues that local people of color face. His advice:

“Take action before Grand Rapids becomes a national story. You do not have to wait for something to blow up.”

As part of his work with the White House, Watson’s task force came up with 60 recommendations for police departments to help prevent unnecessary shootings or strained community relations.

“Take that as a blueprint and say: ‘Ok, at our police department, at GRPD, what are we doing out of this list, and maybe what are some pieces that we can take and implement.’ And not just have a discussion of, well, we can’t do this, we can’t do that. But, how can we do it.”

Watson is in Grand Rapids as part of Grand Valley State University’s Civic Assembly Week.

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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