Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss promised in her 2016 State of the City address that she would focus on racial equity, and she intends to keep her word.

Bliss and Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College, sent out invitations this month calling for community leaders to join a group that will address racial disparities in the region’s workforce.

The pair are co-chairs of Bliss’s brainchild, the Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative, which was born out of feedback Bliss has been hearing from the community about “significant disparities” in access to employment for minority groups.

Bolstered by a three-year, $300,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the initiative will work to create jobs and increase employment in high-poverty, ethnically diverse neighborhoods, as well as build a framework for immediate and long-term community impact.

Bliss said that while the taskforce has not been solidified yet, she has a picture in her mind of the groups that will be represented.

“The vast majority of the members (will be) from the private sector and business community and also individuals from higher education, philanthropy and a few nonprofit organizations that work on economic development,” she said.

Pink said he believes GRCC has a responsibility, as a major talent pipeline for the workforce, to match underserved populations with employers that need workers.

“I call it ‘the great disconnect.’ On one side, you have employers who need workers, and on the other side, you have very diverse neighborhoods with high, high unemployment rates,” he said.

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