Affinity Intern Spotlight: Lauren

April 2022

Lauren Enos, MSW Intern

Lauren Enos joined Affinity’s team in May of 2021 as the Masters of Social Work (MSW) Intern. Lauren is finishing her masters at Grand Valley State University this month. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Wagner College in New York City.

During her time at Affinity, Lauren has supported both the programming and administrative teams, honing her skills in:

  • Grant writing;
  • Program evaluation;
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion;
  • Youth development; and
  • Community partnerships

In addition, she served on both the Middle School Mentoring Steering Committee and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. Post-internship, Lauren has been contracted to lead Affinity’s DEI Committee.

“It is difficult to put into words what my experience at Affinity Mentoring has meant to me. I decided to pursue my graduate studies in my mid-thirties, as a recent Michigan transplant, with a 2 year old. I entertained being able to pursue my passion for identity development and mentoring, one that was sparked back in undergrad,” explains Lauren. “In preparing for joining the Affinity team as an MSW intern, I had no idea I would meet some of the most dedicated, compassionate and caring individuals. I am thankful for the time and opportunities Affinity has provided for me, but I am even more thankful to know that there are organizations filled with people that value caring for each other, making space for difficult times, and leaning into difficult conversations. Affinity has opened the door for me to explore my passions, and I am forever grateful,” she says.

In addition, Lauren will be presenting at the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC) and the Center for 21st Century Studies for her amazing website compilation of Anti-racism Resources for Education and Mentoring.

She has been selected for the Graduate School Citations for Academic Excellence in the Winter 2022 semester. This is an honor given by Grand Valley State University to graduate students who have been nominated by the faculty for Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusion and Diversity at GVSU. 

Lauren also received the Diversity in Human Rights Award from the GVSU School of Social Work. We’re proud to be part of Lauren’s journey and grateful for the insights and initiatives she provided to our team. To learn more about our internship offerings, contact or see what’s available on our Careers Page.

Statement on the GRPD Officer Involved Shooting of Patrick Lyoya

April 14, 2022

Yesterday, April 13 at 3pm, the footage of the murder of Patrick Lyoya who was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids Police officer was released. It is tragic and brutal. Patrick was a refugee, Black, and did not speak English as a first language. At Affinity Mentoring we clearly recognize that these attributes hit on multiple checkboxes for many of our staff, families, students, and schools that make today a terrifying reality check, and can foster extremely valid fear, anger, and anxiety. 

We support the essential voices and partners in our community such as NAACP Grand Rapids, ACLU of Michigan, and others who are calling for clarity, justice, transparency, and change. Real, true, systemic change in our community. They are leaders that we look up to, listen to, and follow as experts and leaders in situations such as this, and we support their voice and efforts. 

Our first and foremost response is to our immediate and most important constituents: our students and families. Students throughout our entire city today are watching this unfold. Hiding this information, lying about it, covering it up, or invalidating their response to it is disrespectful and harmful in both the short and long term. We ask that everyone who is around students today please respect that their fear is real and valid, and that the best thing a safe, healthy adult can do is provide validation, support, and a listening ear. As adults, we can be strong enough to sit in our discomfort to provide a healthy and safe space for students to talk about their fears. We will continue to provide resources and tools to support students and families. 

Our mission and vision focus on creating brave spaces in a diverse and inclusive community, amplifying the voices of youth, and fostering spaces of belonging. We hold true to these statements on both easy and hard days, through enjoyable and despairing conversations, with crafts and crying, because it all matters. We have individuals who encourage us to “stay the course”, focusing on students and mentoring, which we are wholly committed to. We are doing exactly that when we dedicate time, resources, and attention to this situation. For students to focus in school, engage in healthy ways, and work towards successful futures we have to give them room to be whole, healthy, safe, and cared for human beings, in every part of their identity. Today is a day when many students feel that pieces of their identities are threatened. We stand against this. We continue to say that Black Lives Matter, and that healthy identity development is essential to human development, and therefore mentoring.

If you are looking for action steps today, here are some resources we recommend:

  • Directly support the Lyoya family financially as they attempt to move through this tragedy by contributing here
  • Write to our local officials to demand that transparency and justice are found during this investigation. 
  • Attend, watch, and participate in your local Grand Rapids City Commission meetings to hold city officials accountable.
  • Follow leaders in our community who work tirelessly to bring justice and change to issues such as these, listening to them and engaging in their work:
  • Prioritize your mental health and well-being, and that of your loved ones. 
    • If you are an employer, prioritize your staff and their families by providing them resources such as EAP programs, paid time to seek out therapeutic services, and extra, flexible time off to process and care for themselves. 
    • Know that it is completely ok not to watch the brutal video footage, and certainly restrict yourself and loved ones from watching it repetitively. You can still engage and act even if you have not seen the camera footage of the shooting, and repeated watching only increases trauma responses. 
    • Make sure BIPOC adults and students in our community can get access to therapeutic support for, and BY clinicians of color, such as through the Mental Health Clinicians of Color group in Grand Rapids. 
    • Encourage and help  students  seek out support and resources that their school is offering, both this week and in the long term. 
    • Use some of these resources to talk to students around you about racism, police violence, and belonging in our community:
      • Helping Children Cope After A Traumatic Event
        • Validate all students’ feelings. 
        • Ask open-ended questions.
        • Allow students to express themselves in their preferred mediums, whether through talking, drawing, acting, toys, etc. 
      • Talk to ALL students around you, including if they are white and speak English as a first language. Be an excellent example of how to express and process complicated emotions, engage empathically with other people’s feelings, and take action in support of others. 
      • Check out our Antiracism, Identity Development, and Mentoring page to learn more about how you can positively support student growth and identities. Many students may be feeling today like pieces of their identities are dangerous, bad, invalid, or a liability; let’s fight against that by supporting their whole selves!


Cassandra Kiger, Executive Director

DEI 301 Training: Meet the Panelists

April 2022

DEI 301 Training | Wednesday, April 27 6-8pm

This is a hyper-local panel focused on anti-racism in education and mentoring. This is a brave, healthy, inquisitive space for us to dive deeper into how race impacts education in our community, and the individual and community level steps that we can take to support all students succeeding. We will have specific tools and ideas for how mentors can support their mentees. Before and during the event attendees will be able to submit questions for the panel members to answer.


We are grateful for the Steelcase Foundation whose grant has made it possible for this training to be free and widely available for AM partners.

Meet the Panelists

Rafael Castanon (he/him)

Rafael Castanon is the partner engagement manager at Health Net since December 2019, working with Health Net partners to meet patients SDOH needs through navigation assistance. He graduated from GVSU in 2009 with a degree in Sociology. Rafael has worked in project management at Kimberly-Clark Professional focused on safety and continuous improvement. Rafael transitioned to Legal Specialist at Spectrum Health in 2014. Rafael worked in the legal department and the development of Spectrum Health policies, procedures and board governance. 

Rafael has also been an active member of the local community serving on the board for the Creston Neighborhood Association in 2013, Grand Rapids Board of Zoning appeals in 2015 and one of the co-founders of the West Michigan Latino Network. 

Alex Kuiper (he/him)

Alex Kuiper and English Language Learner Specialist for grades 3 through 5 at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools. In addition to his work as an ELL Specialist, Alex is the founding co-chair of the Godfrey-Lee Equity Steering Committee. Through this committee, Alex has worked with staff, students, parents and community stakeholders to both assess the current status of GLPS, as well as to create opportunities for growth in the areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Alex is a certified Equity Literacy trainer through the Equity Literacy Institute out of Virginia, and also has worked with Learning for Justice (formally Teaching Tolerance) on creating safe spaces for dialogue in both the classroom and workplace, as well as training on embedding social justice standards into the core curriculum. 

Kyle Lim (he/him)

Kyle is deeply passionate about supporting communities of color organizing for social change. He has experience in building organizational coalitions to support grassroots
movements against gentrification, police violence and education justice. He strongly believes in the power of radical imaginations that allow communities and organizations to find solutions to problems outside of dominant ways of thinking and doing.

Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell

Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell is the progeny of the greater Grand Rapids Area. Grounded in her lived experiences and her community-focused parents’ love and human- centered values, Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell has become a formidable lifetime advocate, leader, and educator; she has worked feverishly on initiatives, structures and policies that yield more inclusive growth, strong communities, quality public education, and equitable systems that honor and maximize human potential.

She began her career at what is now Kent County’s Network 180, connecting children and families to mental health and substance abuse services. From there she took her love of children to the most logical place – our public schools, as a School Counselor, Guidance Classroom Teacher, Consultant and Principal. Dr. Lovelady-Mitchell made innovative and inclusive strides as a regional leader at Kent Intermediate School District. She is now serving as Michigan Education Association’s founding Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In these positions, Brandy created and facilitated engaging and restorative programs like Butterflies, Nurtured Seeds, Boys-to-Men and Educators of the Yam.

Dr. Mitchell recently became elected to the Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees. She enjoys spending her free time with her family, reading, and attempting to learn golf, which comes at the expense, unfortunately, of her husband’s bent and battered golf clubs.

Erika VanDyke (she/ella) 

Erika was born in Bogotá, Colombia and has lived in Grand Rapids for most of her life. She has been an Affinity mentor at the Godfrey Lee Early Childhood Center since January 2021, regularly participates in the Latina Network of West Michigan, and serves as the communications coordinator for the Latino Community Coalition.  Erika works as program officer at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation facilitating community committees of high school, Latinx, Black, and LGBTQ grantmakers, and supports the advocacy arm of the Foundation’s equitable education strategy.  She is also part of the Urban Core Collective team, working as project manager for their Transformational Leadership Program.  Erika holds bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Women and Gender Studies from Grand Valley State University, and a master’s degree in Community Psychology from Michigan State University. 

Affinity’s DEI Work – Is It A Mission Drift?

March 2022 | By Cassandra Kiger

We love to get feedback from our partners, mentees, mentors, and families, and we take it very seriously. We have had some very valid questions over the past few years about whether or not Affinity Mentoring is creating a mission drift* by putting resources and energy into our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) specific work.

 *A mission drift is when an organization uses resources and time to invest in work that, while it may be generally positive or neutral, is not within the direct mission and vision of the organization.

Individuals have noted that we have put time and resources into focusing on specific DEI related topics in our blogs, social media pages, newsletters, staff and mentor training, events, Mentor Centers, and more. So, we can agree that, yes, we are contributing a LOT of time, energy, and resources into our DEI work. The question remains, then, does it directly impact our mission, or is it a waste of resources? Shouldn’t we, after all, just focus on the really important parts of mentoring? 

In this blog we will demonstrate the importance of DEI related work and how it is vital to our mission. A few highlights include:

1. Research shows that an essential component to the healthy development of adolescents of color is their ethnic/racial identity.

2. Ninety-six percent of students and families in the schools we currently have mentoring in identify as people of color, including students who participate.

3. We acknowledge race and ethnicity are not the only parts of our identity. In future school years we will continue to focus on the incredible importance that mentoring can have on various facets of student identity development, such as gender, neurodivergence, religious, and differently abled identities.

Affinity Mentoring Mission, Vision, & Data Collection

To begin, our Mission is to facilitate equitable growth in academics, social emotional skills, and self-esteem through mutually beneficial mentoring relationships. We believe in cultivating a brave space that amplifies the voices of young agents of change in a diverse and inclusive community.

Our Vision is to be a leading nonprofit for fostering belonging alongside young people, families, and community.

We recognize that some of the goals of our mission and vision statements are easier to calculate than others, academics being easier, social emotional skills, self esteem, and belonging being a bit harder. However, we have worked incredibly hard to outline and implement a thorough annual data and evaluation plan to ensure we are actually meeting the goals of our mission and vision. This includes the Developmental Assets Profile which, among other things, helps us to measure whether students in our mentoring program:

  • believe in their own self-worth and feel that they have control over the things happening around them;
  • feel surrounded by people who love, care for, appreciate, and accept them, and 
  • feel valued, valuable, and safe.

We also use our Mentoring Satisfaction Survey to ask questions of mentees, mentors, teachers, and parents such as:

  • if mentoring is affirming of a student and family’s identity; and
  • if there is perceived safety and support during mentoring (this includes but is not limited to physical safety).

Now that we understand what our mission is and how we measure it, what does the research say on how we can support students in academic, social emotional skills, self-esteem, and belonging? 

Does Research Confirm That DEI Work Can Positively Impact Our Mission & Vision? 

In the 2021-2022 mentoring year we have specifically been focusing on racial/ethnic identity as a key focus area of learning and growth for ourselves as an organization and program.  Everything I will be referencing and citing can be found on our new resource page titled Antiracism, Identity Development, and Mentoring Resources*. How mentors and mentoring programs can support mentees’ ethnic/racial identity is a lovely and well-researched article that introduces succinctly why we have decided to start with this area of identity development. 

Research shows that an essential component to the healthy development of adolescents of color is their ethnic/racial identity. Ethnic/racial identity refers to the “social and psychological experiences associated with identifying with an ethnic or racial group.” There are different aspects to an individual’s ethnic/racial identity, such as pride (i.e., positive feelings towards your group) and exploration (i.e., extent to which you are involved with and/or learn about your ethnic/racial group). Extensive research shows that a healthy ethnic/racial identity is related to many other positive outcomes among diverse adolescents of color, such as more favorable academic, psychological, and health outcomes. A positive ethnic/racial identity even helps to reduce the negative effects of racism on youth. Given that there are so many benefits to a positive ethnic/racial identity for youth of color, it behooves mentoring practitioners to include ethnic/racial identity as an important goal in their mentoring programs because it may lead to other positive outcomes in youth’s lives.

A meta-analysis found within the Chronicle of Evidence Based Mentoring is titled Ethnic and Racial Identity in Adolescence: Implications for Psychosocial, Academic, and Health Outcomes. This research article does a fantastic job of outlining the research within this field, helping give us some definitions and context for how this work is executed and studied. The researchers found:

“…the empirical literature suggests that diverse aspects of ERI (ethnic/racial identity) were generally associated with positive psychosocial functioning and mental health outcomes among minority adolescents.”

“One key finding of this review is that several aspects of ERI, particularly positive feelings about their ethnic or racial group (e.g., affirmation, private regard), are consistently associated with positive psychosocial adjustment among African American and Latino youth, and with academic outcomes among African American, Latino, and Asian American and Pacific Islander youth to some extent. “

To be thorough, we confirmed that their definitions in fact matched our definitions and goals within our mission and vision statements, including:

  • “Psychosocial outcomes include mental health indicators such as depressive symptoms, anxiety, and externalizing behaviors as well as self-esteem and psychological well-being.
  • Academic outcomes include academic achievement, attainment, engagement, and attitudes. 
  • Health risk outcomes include attitudes toward risky behavior or engagement in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, sexual activity, and so forth.”

These definitions (further outlined within the article) closely match what we are looking to measure and support in students and families in our program. 

How Mentoring Organizations & Programs Can Support Mentees’ Ethnic/Racial Identity

The previously mentioned article gives excellent guidelines not only for what individual mentors can do to support this learning and growth within their mentees, but also how programs and organizations can facilitate positive ethnic/racial identity in mentees. They recommend: 

  •  “View mentees’ race/ethnicity as an asset rather than a deficit. What are the strengths and contributions in their racial/ethnic community from which youth and program staff can draw upon?
  • Leadership and staff should include members of mentees’ ethnic/racial group.
  • Program curricula should be culturally relevant.
  • Promote the racial/ethnic socialization of mentees. Mentoring staff should promote messages in their program that values the heritage and culture of mentees and that facilitates ethnic/racial pride in their mentees.
  • Train mentors and staff on how to listen and talk about racially sensitive issues that youth may experience in their lives…..youth may need to make sense of their experiences, thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental space with caring adults. 
  • Encourage youth of color to reflect on their experiences. Identity experts suggest that youth engage in self-reflection activities to help them make sense of their thoughts, feelings and motivations regarding their lived experiences.
  • Support the sociopolitical development of youth of color. Some adults may assume that young people don’t care or aren’t thinking about the social issues our country faces, but oftentimes they are concerned and have questions about it. Helping youth of color develop their sociopolitical skills can help them to understand their own status in a complex social system and how to help make institutional and systemic changes that improve the status of their ethnic/racial group in the U.S.”

Does This Research Apply To Us?

Ok, so the research exists and is repetitive and consistent. (If you have alternate empirical, peer-reviewed data, we would LOVE to see it and chat about it!) However, perhaps this data is skewed! Does this really represent the populations of West Michigan, and specifically those students and families we partner alongside? Extremely valid question; not all research can be transferred to all populations, so let’s double check. 

  • In Grand Rapids…73% of youth under age 18 are persons of color (reference).
  • Ninety-six percent of students and families in the schools we currently have mentoring in identify as people of color, including students who participate in our program (reference). 
  • According to Grand Rapids City’s Economic Dashboard, race is unquestionably a key factor in educational and economic outcomes in Grand Rapids, even when other factors are statistically accounted for (reference).
  • The City of Grand Rapids has even publicly named racism as a public health crisis (reference). 

With this data and more, we can rather reasonably assume that race and/or ethnicity are in fact relevant and key indicators of outcomes for students in Grand Rapids, and the data presented above are extremely relevant to students and families in Grand Rapids, and in our Affinity Mentoring programming. So important, in fact, that we would be negligent to ignore it. 

What If We Lose Support At Affinity Mentoring? 

Some have asked us about the consequences of individuals disagreeing with us on our DEI decisions, whether on political or moral grounds. That is an extremely fair and valid question, to which our only response is this: we are so grateful for your past support, we lament that you no longer choose to support us, and we are always open to further dialogue, but we cannot in good conscience ignore this data. It exists. It is real. It is overwhelming. And we care too deeply about the students and families we partner with to ignore critical information and resources that could support their long-term growth and development. 

Secondly, our response is that, overwhelmingly, we do have great support for the DEI work we are doing, both from individual and major funders (Enterprise; Steelcase Foundation), as well as from the general public. We will be publishing our full 2022 Community Listening Project results over the next month, but this year we had:

  • 85.2% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “publicly support groups of people who are dismissed or unsafe in our community”,
  • 85.9% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we put time and resources into “finding more diverse mentors”, and
  • 80.8% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “provide yearly diversity training for mentors”. 

We are listening, and we are committed to following through on those goals. 

Lastly, we are deeply grateful for those of you who continue to remind us that race and ethnicity are not the only parts of our identity. We completely agree. It is our goal to make sure that we continue to give various facets of student identities an appropriate amount of time, space and depth in our learning, so we are taking them one at a time. Additionally, we want to make sure that we are doing our own research, learning, and growth so that we can support you. We are committed to learning with you, and also a bit ahead of you. Look out in future school years as we focus on the incredible importance that mentoring can have on various facets of student identity development, such as gender, neurodivergence, religious, and differently abled identities. It turns out, none of these topics are mission drifts; each of them are directly important to our work (and we promise to show you the data). 

We are profoundly grateful for your support, your patience, your dedication to students and families, and your openness. Please contact me directly with any follow up comments or questions at


Cassandra Kiger & the Affinity Mentoring Team

*We want to give incredible thanks and a huge shout out to our 2021-2022 MSW intern, Lauren Enos, who has made incredible contributions to Affinity Mentoring over this past year and is responsible for this gorgeous website. 

Black History Month

February 2021

February is Black History Month!
This is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. We’ll be sharing personal experiences, celebrations, and resources from our board and team members!

The theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness. This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.” ASALH: Association for the Study of African American Life and History

Consider supporting and learning from more local Black scholars and medical practitioners:
– Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
– Baxter Community Center
– Urban Core Collective
– NAACP Grand Rapids
Our board and team members reflect on Black History Month:

"As a Black transracial adoptee, my identity as a Black person was not always something I celebrated. My closest family members are white. My parents are white. My school, my church, all my friends were white. At home, we had dolls, books, and toys to remind me that Black people exist, and Black people are beautiful. But still, my surroundings were white.

One time, maybe around 8 or 9 years old, I was in the car with a friend and her mom (both white) when my friend asked me why I was darker than my family. Excitement shot through my body. I knew my story was special. My family and I always shared this story among ourselves with such pride. As I began to explain my adoption story, my friend's mom whipped her head around from the front seat to scold her daughter for asking such a personal question. I felt the embarrassment rush in. "Maybe being adopted is bad," I told myself. 'Maybe being Black is bad.'

I decided I didn't want to talk about it anymore. My Blackness became something to hide. I would straighten my hair, watch Lizzie McGuire, and listen to 'white people music' only. I suppressed myself. Condensed myself. I made myself less. I figured if I could fly under the radar, 'act less Black,' maybe no one would notice or ask questions.

When I started college, my whole world changed. I had enrolled in a program specifically designed for students of color. For the first time in my life I had Black educators. All my professors were Black, and all my peers were people of color. The people I saw every day were people of color. For the first time ever, I didn't feel smaller than the people around me. I felt the flimsy shell of faux-whiteness cracking off my Black skin. I felt Black. But not in a 'stop asking questions' way. I felt Black in a good way.

Recently, the Black experience in America has been under more surveillance than ever. Netflix and HBO are highlighting films with Black actors. Ben and Jerry's broke the internet in June of 2020 with this hot take. Ibram X Kendi sold nearly 2 Million copies of 'How to Be an Antiracist.' Everyone is reading the books. Everyone is eyeing the statistics. Everyone is trying to do their due diligence as we unpack 'Black.' For me, my due diligence is an internal reminder that I owe to my once-9-year-old self: My experience is a Black experience simply because I am Black.

I am Black. I am Black in a good way. I am Black in the best way. I am not small. I am not hiding. I am so proud to be Black. I am so proud to be me. "

Abigail Bruins
Board Member

"As a woman who identifies as Black, African and American, my identity has been very complex to describe...'you had to be there' or 'you had to live it' is how I candidly describe it. However, because of the intersectionality of my identity - I can say that I am mostly proud, because I am able to relate to the lived experiences of very many Black, African and American people. I am grateful for the journey my life has afforded me, the struggles that taught me memorable lessons and the grace that allows me to extend genuine empathy and compassion to those who are marginalized because of these identities."

Christine Mwangi
Board Member

"I’m using this month to reflect on how I invest my time, talent, and treasure to support and amplify Black voices in my personal and professional realms. The erasure of Black voices in history, education, and liberation movements (only to name a few) is perpetuated and upheld by individuals and systems that do not correct past and current treatment of Black Americans. While dedicating a month to honor and celebrate Black Americans’ contributions to the nation is important, it’s also essential that we make long term solutions to amplify and support the Black community all year long.

In my professional day to day activities I’m making a point to research, read, and listen to Black philanthropists. If there’s one thing I have learned it’s that Black philanthropy IS American philanthropy. Black erasure is prevalent in most every sector, but especially philanthropy. Where certain groups are labeled “givers” or “receivers.” According to the 2018 Demographic Report of the Association of Fundraising Professionals of the more than 31,000 members, less than 10 percent are professionals of color (This includes those who self-identify as: African American, Hispanic, Native American, Multi-Ethnic, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander). This is problematic for a number of reasons, more than I can speak on in a blog. But this led me to begin exploring how Black philanthropists have been erased from history and why most fundraising practices are focused on white, upper-middle class donors.

A prime example is of Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy of charitable giving during the 1900s and Jim Crow era, which is often overlooked or a footnote in her accomplishments. Madame C.J. Walker was born to enslaved parents, was orphaned young, and became the first SELF-MADE millionaire. Her giving was strategic and an essential part of her life no matter what amount she had in her pockets.
Book: Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy During Jim Crow by Tyrone McKinley Freeman
Netflix Limited Series: Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

I’m an avid reader and love to explore local coffee shops. This month I've been adding to my list of Black-owned businesses, authors, and movements to further my knowledge and support local.
A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, MI by Todd E. Robinson
Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Bookstore:When you are buying books, see if we are lit (local multicultural bookstore) has it first!
While you’re at it, support Black-owned coffee shops like Last Mile Cafe and Shift Coffee + Culture🙂

I’m always geeked to meet a fellow bibliophile and nerd out on my latest reads - add me on Goodreads!"

Rachel Humphreys
Communications and Development Director

"For some time now I’ve always known that February is Black History Month and I saw it as an opportunity to educate myself on how enslaved people were treated and how they became free, I pay my respects by watching inspirational movies and documentaries. Although I am Hispanic and do not identify as Black, I do relate to being minority. As I get older I am understanding that Black History Month is not just about slavery, MLK, and protests, it’s also about celebrating Black community and achievements, it’s an opportunity for us to step out of our own circle and embrace other cultures, and support Black-owned businesses. February is a reminder to create awareness, get involved, and respect the sacrifice endured. I celebrate not only the historical freedom but also the freedom of the emotional bondages within ourselves and our community. Together we thrive!"

Mayra Rodriguez
Office Coordinator

"Black History Month is a regular opportunity for me to remember how much I simply don't know, and to be grateful for the beautiful, kind, patient Black people who have graciously helped me learn (or graciously told me to stop asking them and go learn on my own). This month is a cognitive reminder to celebrate the accomplishments collectively fought for and made, to lament how far we have yet to go and the inequities that remain in our society, and to make actual plans and move forward real goals towards change. Black History Month makes me remember that I need to strive for more empathy, that there are stories and life experiences that I will never understand, that I need to believe black people when they share their experiences and follow their lead in change."

Cassandra Kiger
Executive Director

"Yay, it's Black History Month. Although I do not identify as Black or African American I'm always excited to learn about their amazing history and all that they have overcome to ensure a better future for the coming generations. Although there are still many obstacles to overcome I would like to share one of my favorite Black/African American people who in their own way have empowered me to be a bulldozer of a woman. Rosa Parks is one of the women that from a young girl I looked up to because I was mesmerized by her strength to stand up for what she believed was fair. I have always admired her for her bravery and her willingness to never back down no matter the consequences."

Rocio Moreno
Program Director and Burton Site Coordinator

"I have spent a lot of my life wondering about my identity. As a biracial Black woman, whose Black roots cross a variety of cultures and histories, I never felt like I was allowed to claim myself as Black. I grew up in Maine, surrounded by White people, asking me 'What are you?,' or making racist comments about my appearance, or making racist jokes around me then claiming I couldn’t be offended because I 'wasn’t actually Black.'

In college, I learned about Black identity development, and I experienced what is known as the encounter stage, in which I recognized not only that I was Black, but that I had lived through many painful and formative experiences specifically because I was Black. After that, I immersed myself in owning this identity, and being proud of it, and not concerning myself with what others thought I was, or whether they thought I was enough.

My new reality, however, is one of understanding what it means to be biracial Black. Because I do have many privileges not bestowed upon Black people. I recognize that I do not experience a lot of racial discrimination placed upon those who present as Black, and that I must do my part to ensure those voices are heard and that I am listening.

I continue to learn more about my Cape Verdean culture, I listen to the stories of others who have experienced life similarly to me. I spend time trying to find events, activities, communities in which people of color will surround me, so that I may immerse myself and my family into environments where I am safe, where I can connect with others, and where I can listen to their stories."

Lauren Enos
MSW Intern

"How do I celebrate Black History Month? I have to admit that I am in a learning stage. For a long time, I did not know the importance of celebrating the contributions of each culture to this country. But today, I know it is essential to value and honor each culture. I celebrate this month by advocating for each student so that their culture and legacy are respected in our schools. I created a space where they can share with others who they are. But the most important is I admit that I have a lot to learn, but I am willing to educate myself, so my future generations love and respect others every day."

Monica Zavala
SWCC Site Coordinator