Brown said BL2END fills a need for the community. “We graduated at the same time and realized we were going to stay in the Grand Rapids area,” Brown said. “Our networks had changed. We were moving into this new young professional role, so our old college network wasn’t there for us anymore. Many of our friends were moving back to Detroit or wherever they came from. We wanted to figure out a way to develop connections in Grand Rapids.”
BL2END — which stands for Business Leaders Linked to Encourage New Direction — offers social networking, professional development and community outreach. It was founded in 2006 and boasts deep Grand Valley roots.
“It was really an organic and grass-roots development. There was this idea and a vision that Erayna had, and we spread it among a few founding members and it’s taken off so far,” said Brown, who works as a program assistant in the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. A Flint native, she earned her bachelor’s degree in public and nonprofit administration and is working on her master’s degree in adult and higher education.
BL2END’s seven-person steering committee features four Grand Valley graduates — Brown, Alexander, Gamble and Jermale Eddie, Grand Valley’s assistant director of Multicultural Affairs. Also on the committee is Maxine Gray, a Hope graduate who is pursuing a master’s degree in communications at Grand Valley. Many of the group’s members are also Grand Valley alumni, Alexander said.
Alexander — a Grand Rapids native — said: “We couldn’t think of anything that encompassed everything we wanted in an environment where we were comfortable. We built BL2END out of our own needs.”
The organization continues to have strong ties to the university. “We all connected at Grand Valley and sustained our relationships after graduating from Grand Valley,” Alexander said. “We are still connecting with GVSU students , with the hopes to keep them in Grand Rapids so that they can give back to the community — hopefully through BL2END.”
From left, Jamon Alexander, Maxine Gray, Janean Brown, Jermale Eddie. Not pictured, Erayna Gamble / Photo by Amanda Pitts