Instead of just observing this year, get involved with some of the local events happening around town to celebrate Black History Month. Throughout February, there’s something for everyone.
The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives has a wide variety of events all month, including a local quilt display, an art exhibit at Fountain Street Church, a documentary film and more.
GRAAMA is also collaborating with the Grand Rapids Public Library for the Taste of Soul Sunday, where they will be helping community members digitize family photos, documents and heirlooms.
“We don’t value our possessions a lot of times, especially when they’re linked to your family or history,” said George Bayard, director of GRAAMA. “(People) just throw stuff out, not knowing that they could be throwing away very valuable pieces of history. What we’re trying to do is encourage people to take another look at some of those things that might be in a closet or a drawer, in a basement, and before they throw them out, at least have us take a look at them.”
Additionally, Bayard said community members can record short oral histories at the Taste of Soul event, which is something they normally do at the museum.
“People will want to tell us about things that happened here in Grand Rapids,” Bayard said.
At the end of the month, GRAAMA will showcase a comedy exhibition that connects black comedians with social justice.
“This is the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year that was really plagued by activism,” Bayard said. “You had the summer Olympic protest. You had Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy dying. You had the Chicago election riots. There was a lot of protesting, a lot of social change happening, so we knew that some of the early comics … had a little bend toward social justice in their humor.
“Grand Rapids was a haven for minstrels, the blackface entertainers … so we’ll probably have a little display about that.”
Continuing into March for Laughfest, three local comedians will perform a comedy show at GRAAMA on March 9.
Bayard said he hopes people will come to the events in February, and be inspired to come back and learn more.
“They don’t have to wait until February to explore African American history,” Bayard said. “We are very proud of the fact that we do black history 12 months a year, it’s a never-ending thing for us.
“We have ongoing programming the whole year that talks about accomplishments and feats that African American people have done here locally and nationally.”
Each year, the Grand Rapids Public Library hosts a variety of local musicians, authors, artists, professors and businesses for the Taste of Soul Sunday. The free showcase will highlight five categories of soul: Listen, Learn, Create, Eat, Preserve.
“The Grand Rapids Public Library is committed to celebrating the rich diversity of our city,” said Kristen Krueger-Corrado of GRPL. “Taste of Soul Sunday brings people together to experience the music, food, art, history, and traditions of our African American community.”
Krueger-Corrado was excited to note a couple interesting speakers at this year’s event.
“I think that we are having two very interesting discussions this year around athletics and civil rights,” Krueger-Corrado said. “Minnie Forbes, the owner of the Detroit Stars, shattered barriers. Dr. Louis Moore will explore the history of black athlete activism and the long work of athletes fighting for racial justice.”
In addition, GRPL is partnering with the GRAAMA, The Diatribe, NoLo’s Soul, Irie Kitchen, Big Ed’s BBQ and Mosby’s Popcorn.
The weekly poetry night Drunken Retort at Stella’s Lounge is making its theme “Black History Month” for one night. It will be hosted by Foster and Fable The Poet, who said he will be dropping in black history facts into his poetry, and hopes to keep the audience laughing even through some of the dark times in history.
“I hope a majority of the crowd are individuals of color, occasionally that happens at The Retort and as an individual of color, there is something special about that happening at my show, because for a long time I never felt truly safe or welcome in Grand Rapids,” Fable said. “And when you look around you and multiple people in the room look like you, in a place that is notoriously white, there is something truly magical about that, especially in Grand Rapids.
“But I hope everyone — no matter their race — leaves smiling, laughing, crying, angry, informed, motivated and feeling full, stuffed to the brim with emotions.”