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Grand Rapids woman's 'global identity', importance of DEI highlighted in new memoir

"It's important that we have representation so that we can assess how to best build our cities, counties and our municipalities," said Graci Harkema.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids woman, whose journey started across the world, is sharing her thoughts and expertise on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, just weeks after new commissioners dismantled the DEI office in Ottawa County.

Graci Harkema is a prominent figure in the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion, with a published book on the horizon of release.

"We're all in this together," Harkema said. "This isn't just a black, brown, immigrant, etc. issue." 

But her road to success wasn't without hard work, and it's also from where she draws her passion.

"Being from the Democratic Republic of Congo, born in civil unrest and poverty in a mud hut, and then being adopted by a family in Grand Rapids, I understood what it felt like to feel different," said Harkema. "To feel like I didn't belong, or like I wasn't a part of something."

"I understood the power of belonging."

Harkema left Africa and moved to Michigan when she was just four years old. She said she grew up thinking that her biological mother was no longer alive. Seven years ago, she a friend of hers from Congo reached out, and she learned that her biological mother was still alive and she took a trip to visit her.

 Then in December of 2022, Harkema traveled back to Africa to surprise her biological mother for Christmas. 

Through all of her experiences, Harkema has become an expert in DEI, working for several major companies for more than a decade.

"I made it my life's passion to be fully invested in this work of diversity, equity inclusion," she said. "To be able to partner with organizations and help them foster an environment of inclusion, and a place where their employees and members of the organizations can show up as their authentic selves, and have the ability to reach their potential."

"I knew how powerful and how impactful that work could be," she added.

Harkema also shared her thoughts and expertise on the recent changes in Ottawa County made by the new county commissioners.

"The dismantling of the DEI office in Ottawa County certainly is disheartening," she said. "It's important that we have representation at the table and in our leadership, so that we can assess how to best build our cities, counties and our municipalities to ensure that we are actually representing the people that live there, and that we're drawing and attracting the people who we want to come."

Harkema also recently published her first book titled, "Rising: From a Mud Hut to the Boardroom—and Back." The memoir details her journey and reflection on her life, and how it brought her to where she is today working so passionately about diversity, equity, and inclusion. 'Rising' will be available in print and ebook format on April 18, 2023. 

"We all have different privileges and accesses than one another," Harkema said, "but when we are able to lend what we have and share those opportunities, accesses, and privileges with others, then together we can achieve equity, which means that then we can have the opportunity for equal outcomes for all."

You can learn more about Harkema, her experience, and her book by visiting her website.

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