Grand Valley and community leaders crowded into the Cook Library Center, 1100 Grandville Ave., September 23 to celebrate the start of a yearlong partnership with Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities.
The event also served to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the founding of a Hispanic civil and human rights organization, the Young Lords.
The partnership focuses on GAAH’s Cook Library Scholars program, designed to provide 30 elementary and middle school students from the surrounding neighborhood with academic support and leadership training. Grand Valley faculty members, students and the Kutsche Office of Local History will work with GAAH staff members to facilitate the program.
Melanie Shell-Weiss, director of Grand Valley’s Kutsche Office of Local History, said the partnership exemplifies the work the office has done in the past to support marginalized groups in West Michigan.
Anne Hiskes, dean of the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, told the audience that when her family came to the U.S. from the Netherlands, they settled in the Grandville neighborhood. “I remember my mother and my grandparents telling me their struggles in this neighborhood,” Hiskes said. “It’s the same dreams that inspired the Young Lords, dreams of equal opportunity, housing, employment and education. Those dreams helped shape my values.”
The Cook Library Scholars program will also connect young students with area Hispanic leaders for mentorship and leadership skill building. Some of those leaders were portrayed in an exhibit, “Tengo El Pueblo En Mi Corazón: Latino Civil Rights and Community,” that remains up at the center through October 18. Grand Valley students, led by Paul Wittenbraker, associate professor of art and design, helped with the exhibit.
George Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids, said it’s important to be involved in civil rights efforts within the Hispanic community. “This is an important part of our history,” Heartwell said. “And it’s a piece that needs to be remembered by us.”
Many audience members then took a walking tour of the neighborhood; some continued on a tour bus, sponsored by the Kutsche Office, to Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, the birthplace of the Young Lords civil rights movement in 1968.