COMMUNITY AS THE EXPERT

Grand Rapids Community Foundation strives to honor and amplify voices of all who call Kent County home. Together with our partners, we are making lasting change and learning from the experience of our community experts—those closest to the most pressing issues we face.

Philanthropy is personal. It is cultural, contextual and relational. The word “philanthropy” derives from an ancient Greek word meaning “to love people.” The ways we express our love through our giving are as varied and nuanced as we are. 

While people from all backgrounds have been generously sharing, serving and loving their neighbors, Grand Rapids Community Foundation is working to join forces with and pay homage to long-standing traditions of philanthropy in Black and Latinx communities. We do so to support work informed by those closest to our community’s most pressing issue—the pursuit of racial, social and economic justice for everyone who calls West Michigan home.

As we learn from and amplify the causes of local Black and Latinx partners striving to be agents of their own change, we have experienced growing pains and strengthened relationships. This commitment is helping us reimagine our role in community, how we fundraise and how we allocate resources. We have rewritten grant guidelines for our Fund for Community Good (unrestricted) and Field of Interest funds. And we are participating in initiatives like W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving.

Sergio Cira-Reyes
Sergio Cira-Reyes
Black Lives Matter murals, downtown Grand Rapids
Black Lives Matter murals, downtown Grand Rapids

“I've seen philanthropy play out in the Latino community, the Black community and different communities at different levels. People that have grown up under systems of oppression tend to dedicate their lives to changing those systems.”

SERGIO CIRA-REYES​
Black Lives Matter murals, downtown Grand Rapids
Black Lives Matter murals, downtown Grand Rapids
Taking a posture of listening

Organizer. Advocate. Disruptor. Sergio Cira-Reyes, Angela Nelson and Keyuana Rosemond use these words to describe their respective roles in community. While unapologetically focused on uplifting and empowering their unique communities, each values trust and authentic cross-cultural relationships. Each brings their own lived experience, expertise and giving traditions to their philanthropic partnership with the Community Foundation.

“When they say, ‘our Community Foundation,’ I take that as an invitation to give feedback,” says Sergio, a donor partner and Latinx Advisory Committee volunteer. “The most important thing for us in this space is agency and self-determination and what we envision for ourselves. What we can dream up for ourselves, the Community Foundation is never going to be able to dream up for us.”

Our partners remind us that the people who make up communities, not institutions, are the experts of themselves. Not only are the people of communities most intimately aware of their issues and aspirations, they are best positioned to imagine solutions.

Sergio, Angela and Keyuana say they’ve noticed the Community Foundation showing up for Black, Latinx and LGBTQ communities navigating hard issues with a posture of listening first, followed by co-creating solutions together.

“That has allowed the Community Foundation to be a leader for other businesses and foundations that may have been a little weary or apprehensive about taking a step because of fear that their donors may abandon them,” says Angela, a founding member of  Black Impact Collaborative. “The team is open to the dialogue about how they can continue to improve their processes that might unintentionally hinder or oppress our communities.”

Keyauna Rosemond
Keyuana Rosemond
“We are living experience of what equity is trying to achieve. So we don't have to constantly say it, because this is how we live our lives and what we do.”
KEYUaNA ROSEMOND
Angela Nelson
Angela Nelson
“Philanthropy extends beyond just the money. It’s really about how we can use our greatest asset, which is our thought process, to start moving the needle and start moving people who are oppressed into positions where they are thriving.”
Angela Nelson
Supporting community-led recovery

These relationships and lessons prepared us to respond to two pandemics—COVID-19 and existing racial and economic inequities intensified during times of crisis. BIC and Latinx leaders who created La Lucha Fund are teaching us the unique needs for Black, immigrant and undocumented communities in Kent County, who have been disproportionately impacted by both pandemics.

BIC is a group of 20+ local organizations either led by or serving Black people. Institute of Ubuntu, a 501(c)(3) think tank focused on enhancing the lives of people of African descent in Grand Rapids, convened BIC. It cultivates community and healing and promotes intellectual, cultural and thought leadership.

Angela explains, “The Black community is not monolithic, but this is really an opportunity to come together and serve as an example within our community that we can work together, move in solidarity and attack issues. We’re definitely stronger in numbers. We appreciate that the Community Foundation has backed us, supported us, advocated for us.”

Watch the video to hear our partners talk about Informed Impact and what that means for our community.

La Lucha Fund is a collaboration between Movimiento Cosecha, Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan and LatinxGR.  Held at the Community Foundation, the fund was created as a short-term, emergency response to COVID-19. “La Lucha,” which means “the fight or struggle” in Spanish, provides financial resources directly to families in Kent County who are undocumented or have mixed immigration status and  are therefore ineligible for unemployment, CARES Act relief or other government support.

“The Community Foundation was willing to associate itself with a community that’s been disenfranchised, has little power and doesn’t get any government benefits through COVID,” Sergio says. “The Community Foundation put their name next to the undocumented community to say, ‘Yes, we are taking a serious step to help this community; we’re investing in this community and we’re proud to do it.’ That was, to me, how organizations should walk the talk and follow through on their missions.”

Watch the video to hear our partners talk about Informed Impact and what that means for our community.

Meet our community experts

Sergio Cira-Reyes
Sergio Cira-Reyes
“The Organizer”

“I’m a community organizer and in different levels…A lot of that has been bringing the Latino community together to leverage our collective voice, power, influence and knowledge to make Grand Rapids a better place for Latinos to live.”

Angela Nelson
“The Advocate”

“My role is to show up as a community advocate, someone who cares deeply about all of our communities of color, specifically the Black community…I’m able to see a need and connect it to resources, whether it’s funding, people or places so that they know they have a fit in this community.”

Keyauna Rosemond
Keyuana Rosemond
“The Disrupter”

“I am that person who is unafraid to ask the hard questions. I’m also very much coming with a solution or idea too…I am somebody who has a lot of different identities that intersect, so when I come to the table, I am wearing all of those hats at once…I want to make sure that voices, for particularly the LGBTQ community, are uplifted in those conversations and thought of.”

Black Lives Matter murals, downtown Grand Rapids
Black Lives Matter murals, downtown Grand Rapids
Shared vision for our community’s future

As a donor to African American Heritage and La Lucha funds, Keyuana hopes to see the Community Foundation support even more grassroots organizations and initiatives. “If we’re really going to respond to the needs of community, let’s look at who is really on the ground, who is serving community and try to help in those spaces,” she says.

Angela says that because the Community Foundation is deeply rooted in community, “We are trusting that the support and impact is not going to just be for a moment. We trust that it is truly a long-term partnership and that you are creating informed decisions because you’re creating partnerships that are authentic and lasting.”

This is so much more than a moment for the Community Foundation. We’ve been committed for nearly a century to ensure that West Michigan is a place where everyone has opportunities to thrive. Our partners are helping us do more in leveraging our resources, networks and influence to eliminate racial disparities — which have been evident in our community for far too long. That can only happen through authentic relationships, transparency and collaboration.

Whatever form of philanthropy you choose to live out your love for our community—giving time, talents or treasures—puts us closer to realizing a shared vision for our community. You’re helping create a community where equitable access to opportunity, prosperity and true belonging is available to us all.