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Grand Rapids mayor announces initiatives for immigrants, minority communities

Mar 3, 2017

Grand Rapids' mayor wants to make the city more welcoming to immigrants. Rosalynn Bliss announced a new initiative at her State of the City address Thursday night. She says the goal is to connect immigrants with services and provide information about schools and local government. 

“I want to make sure there is a safe place for them to come and learn about our community, our systems and how to get engaged,” Bliss said.

She expects to launch the initiative in the next month or two.

Under the new “racial equity initiative” announced in her speech, Michigan’s second largest city will create a plan to address racial inequities and a scorecard or dashboard, with quantifiable benchmarks for success.

Affordable housing is a hot topic in Grand Rapids and it was a theme of Bliss’ 2016 speech.

Last year the city established a trust fund to help alleviate the problem, but Bliss said feedback she got from the public caused her to form a 25-member housing advisory committee to come up with recommendations.

She expects the committee’s report in May.

“We know that we have a lot more work to do, but I believe what we put in place last year will allow us to make more significant progress this year,” Bliss said.

Bliss highlighted efforts to improve relationships between minority communities and the police department.

She says the city has new police recruitment policies and all officers now wear body cameras. A study of traffic stops is underway and she expects the city to undertake an arrest disparity study soon. She says all officers took an implicit bias training. She expects all city employees to take the same training this year.  

Without racial equity, Mayor Bliss said Grand Rapids cannot prosper. She says many businesses rely on immigrants, and she worries black entrepreneurs may not feel welcome in the city.  

“The work we are doing to embed racial equity within the city organization – it’s critical, it’s critical work,” she said.