GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Black History Month isn't just about looking to the past. It's also about highlighting people who make history every single day. Kristian Grant is a Grand Rapidan whose life mission is empowering communities on Grand Rapids' southeast side. She says she wants to make sure they shine and thrive like other neighborhoods across the city.
"I've just always felt a responsibility in some crazy sense to stay here," said Grant. "And really create a place that people want to come back to, and a place that people want to stay."
Grant wears many different hats. She's a businesswoman and sits on several boards, including Grand Rapids Public Schools. But her mission is to make sure all communities in Grand Rapids, in particular the ones on the city's southeast side, are uplifted and represented. She says that starts by having a stable school district.
"I think the systems and supports that have to be in place for a community to really thrive are so layered, right," said Grant. "I serve on the Grand Rapids Public School Board, one of the foundational layers of a community is the school system."
Grant added, "And for the past six years, I've really been doing the work of understanding the district. We have a large district [and] understanding what supports it needs, what our families, our children, and our staff need. So, that has been a large part of my work."
Grant says that often when people hear the word support, they think of public assistance or welfare, but that's not the support she's talking about. She says that from a young age she noticed a stark difference between communities across this city. Now, she wants the same support more affluent areas receive to be given to the city's southeast side.
"When I was younger, I went to Tri-Unity," Grand said. "So, in that time, that was like a world away, coming from the southeast side of town driving to try Unity Christian school every morning. And I remember just sitting in the backseat of the car and thinking like, 'something feels different, the air feels different when I get out of the car to go to school, right.' And so. as I was older, I would always go back to that, like, what was different? Well, hmm, the electric wires didn't hang as low. The sidewalks were bigger. There were there were streetscaping. You know, there were thriving businesses. In the morning, things were bustling. And you saw coffee shops and people coming and going. And I just would say, who made those decisions that happen there, but not where I live?'"
So, Grant is doing her part by changing that. She's ensuring she has a seat at the table by serving on several boards and helping make policy to ensure southeast Grand Rapids isn't overlooked.
Also, Grant is buying property on that side of town to promote Black businesses and Black ownership. She says the future for southeast Grand Rapids is bright.
"In my mind, in the next five to 10 years, we will have thriving business districts that are a part of these smaller neighborhoods that each have their own unique flair and flavor," said Grant. "I would love to see thriving business districts that really cater to those individual neighborhoods, they provide jobs, I'd like to see more home ownership. I see our schools being more invested in having more programs, stronger programs, and really preparing our students for life after graduation.
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