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
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.
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."
Affinity Mentoring, with support from the Steelcase Foundation, has released its 2022 lineup for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Training. All current mentors, partners, and team members may participate.
This training series focuses on Anti-Racism and will include 101, 201, and 301 levels. We will allow up to 35 individuals to participate in person on a first come first serve basis. Individuals will also be able to choose to participate virtually, with a cap at 50 total individuals both in-person and online.
DEI 101: Anti-Racism Date: 2/23 6-8pm Location: Goei Center
Meet the Speakers: – Vanessa Jimenez; Founder/CEO of Mezcla Mosaic Collaborative – Marlene Kowalski-Braun; GVSU Associate VP for Enrollment Development Deputy Inclusion and Equity Officer
DEI 201: Anti-Racism Date: 3/29 6-8pm Location: Goei Center
Meet the Speaker – Christine Mwangi; CEO and Founder of Grounded In Equity, President and CEO of Be A Rose, member of the Affinity Mentoring Board of Directors, and KDL Director of Fund Development.
*This training is a 201 training; we highly recommend that if you have never attended any professional, intentional anti-racism training that you first attend the 101 training offered on 2/23 before attending this 201 training.
DEI 301: Anti-Racism Date: 4/27 6-8pm Location: Goei Center
This is a hyper-local panel focused on anti-racism in education and mentoring; we highly recommend that if you have never attended any professional, intentional anti-racism training that you first attend the 101 training offered on 2/23.
Meet the Panelists – Rafael Castanon; Health Net of West Michigan (and AM mentor), – Alex Kuiper; Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, – Kyle Lim; Urban Core Collective, – Brandy Lovelady Mitchell; Kent ISD’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – Erika VanDyke; Urban Core Collective (and an AM mentor).
On 9/28, the Grand Rapids City Commission and Mayor Bliss approved the resolution to name Racism as a Public Health Crisis in the City of Grand Rapids. Some may be asking, ‘Why should I care about this?’, and especially, ‘Why does Affinity Mentoring care about this?’. Great question; we are actually one small part of reducing the risk that racism can have on the health of students and families in our community! If you have not yet seen it you can read the full resolution here. Or, here are a few key highlights that pertain to our work at Affinity:
“While a resolution is not the solution itself, it can serve as public acknowledgment of racism as a core problem impacting health and support citywide efforts to address this problem.”
This was widely supported throughout the city, including from health organizations like Spectrum Health
In the resolution it declares that “Black, Indigenous and people of color face economic injustice, social deprivation and health inequities as a result of systemic racism”
“[E]ducational attainment” is specifically named as a key health area that is impacted by systemic racism, supported by statistics such as:
In Grand Rapids, 22% of Black and 43% of Latino residents 25 or older have less than high school education attainment, as compared to 6% of white residents. (Policy Link Equity Profile of Grand Rapids, 2017)
Latinos are 16% of the population in Grand Rapids but account for 43% of residents aged 25 and up that don’t have a high school diploma. (Policy Link Equity Profile of Grand Rapids, 2017)
In Grand Rapids, 13% of Latino and 13% of Black residents 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, as compared to 44% of white residents (Policy Link Equity Profile of Grand Rapids, 2017); and
Across all Kent County schools, 19.4% of Black and 21.2% of Latino middle school students reported not going to school because they did not feel safe at school or on their way to or from school compared to 8.7% of white middle school students (Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment, 2020)
In passing the resolution, the City Commission declared: “The City acknowledges racism as a public health crisis and supports policies and opportunities to dismantle structural racism and achieve health and social equity”. Most importantly, they “urge local organizations, businesses, units of government and individuals to use their influence to ‘dismantle racism and apply a public health framework to those efforts.'”
We hope that you consider joining us as we learn, grow, and challenge ourselves to do this work well so that students and families can thrive. Stay tuned for more information about ways we can learn together in the coming months.
November 2021 | By Cassandra Kiger, Affinity Mentoring and Sarah Brant, New Mexico Community Capital
At Affinity we are learning with you, and we work to sit at the feet of experts on different topics. This year, we wanted to learn more about the Thanksgiving holiday and season from a local Native expert and partner, Sarah Brant of the Anishinaabe Aki people, our local Community Outreach Coordinator for New Mexico Community Capital.
Sarah explained to us, “The fourth Thursday in November is also known as the National Day of Mourning, started in the 1970’s as American Indian Movements started raising awareness to critical issues happening in Native Country. We honor our ancestors and the struggles of Indigenous survival and revitalization of our identity. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection, as well as a protest of the racism and oppression Indigenous people continue to experience.”
Sarah continued to explain that, “The Indigenous community does not look at this time as just a day, but a season (October: Binaakwe-Ggizis, or Falling Leaves Moon; November: Gashkadino-Giizis, or Freezing Over Moon). It allows us to practice who we are and make our offerings to those that have passed on. Harvest to Solstice season is a reflection time for our community. We sing our roundance songs, we tell our creation stories, and openly talk about who we are. We celebrate the abundance that the Spring and Summer have gifted us, from fruit to medicines we store and preserve then utilize throughout the winter months. We often offer these items on our spirit plates that our families foraged together.”
We acknowledge that learning new information isn’t always easy, but we see you do and learn new things every day when you participate in mentoring and support work in our community! We simply ask you to consider new possibilities in this season, and listen to new perspectives. Whether you identify as Native, you are already on a journey to understand and honor Native Peoples, or this is all very new to you, we would love to hear from you about how you plan to celebrate your Thanksgiving with the first celebration in mind.
Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
Lyla sings in both English and Spanish as Indigenous people come from all over the globe! (Did you know many of our Spanish speaking mentees and families, and even Affinity staff identify as Indigenous?)
If you aren’t already aware of the Indigenous People who first inhabited the land we live on today, you can use this amazing website to do some of your own research and learning.
We acknowledge that our office sits on land of the Peoria and Odawa peoples, and that the Anishinaabek People of the Three Fires were the first inhabitants of this land. As a team we will be writing our own land acknowledgement.
Encourage your organization to create your Land Acknowledgement Statement. Here are three great examples of Organizations and Universities that have written an appropriate Land Acknowledgment
Learn about local Native/Indigenous programs and resources in Grand Rapids, such as Grand Rapids Public School district is teaching the next generation about our community’s Indigenous heritage through their Native American Education Program.
Auntie’s House: An Urban Indian Community Organization with information about Birth Programs, Food Sovereignty, Community Wellness, and Language.
Nizhomi Sol: Learn about Indigenous birthing practices and support.
September 15 – October 15 is officially Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and in Michigan, and there are so many things to celebrate in so many different ways. Check out how Affinity board and staff celebrate, and follow our Facebook Page for more opportunities to learn about the complexities and intersectionalities of the Hispanic/Latinx experience.
"As a White woman who grew up in a predominately White, middle class community, I’m constantly deepening my understanding of my biases and working to critically examine my own participation in cultures of dominance. Raising biracial children adds an extra layer of intentionality behind the choices I make as an adult because I know I have two little sponges who are watching my every move. I want my kids to value lifelong learning, speaking two languages, and embracing all of their identities even if the rest of the world is telling them not to. My children are lighter skinned and often unknowingly “pass” as White. We talk openly about their multiple heritages, ethnicities, skin colors and cultures. They’re proud of their light brown skin and know it comes from their Papa, that their beautiful dark brown eyes are from their Abuelita, and of course their freckles are from me. I want to make sure they are able to fully embrace their often complex and beautiful identities. We stock our home with books that are written by Latinos and feature Latinx characters; we support local Latinx restaurants (they can’t get enough of the arroz from Lindo Mexico and tacos from El Cunado), and of course attend the annual Hispanic Festival that kicks off the month. While as a family we celebrate their Latinx culture and heritage every day, Hispanic Heritage Month is a small window of time each year where the entire nation celebrates the rich beauty, contributions, and cultures of the Latinx communities. Our hope is that one day we won’t need a designated month because the contributions of Latinx communities will be celebrated, honored, and remembered every day."
Rachel Humphreys Development and Communications Director of Affinity Mentoring
"To me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration and honor to immigrants from Latin America. This month I want to celebrate my parents who had the courage to leave their lives in Mexico City to come to the United States in 1992. As a first generation daughter, I have seen the sacrifices that my parents made as they worked for a better future for me and my sisters. This meant having multiple jobs as a cook, a cleaner, a migrant worker, a factory worker, and selling at flea markets. My parents have made the impossible possible as they learned how to navigate in a country with oppressive systems as native Spanish speakers all while raising their daughters in a new country. Para mis padres, llegaron sin nada y me lo dieron todo.
During this month I am extra grateful for being a daughter of hard working immigrant parents. My brown skin, dark eyes, and Mexican features that I was once ashamed of, I have learned as an adult to embrace it even more. I am proud of all that I am as it’s a representation of my roots, culture, and parents. Without the sacrifices that my parents made I wouldn't have the opportunities that are available to me today as a US citizen."
Angela Reyna Lee MS Site Coordinator
"Being part of Affinity has been an incredibly fulfilling experience. I have learned that when I speak about justice, equality, and inclusion, I must also continuously question my personal and professional decisions made to ensure I am putting my money where my mouth is. That is not always easy to do. How can I work towards equity for all if I am not also ensuring I am spending money at BIPOC businesses? So often it is easy, cost effective and convenient to utilize the businesses that have the largest reach and the most convenient options. When planning my daughter’s 4th birthday, I asked her what she wanted for food. She immediately shouted “tacos!” I decided to reach out to a local Latinx restaurant. Although it took more effort than say, opening my phone and ordering catering on Chipotle’s website, I kept reminding myself that I needed to practice conscious shopping and reinvest in my community.
It took some back and forth on my part. Since over the phone wasn’t working, I drove out there and put my order in, thankful that they recognized me from my days in the past of going there every week when I worked near them (that community connection always feels nice when you support local, small places). Not only did it cost less than the chain, but we also received so much extra food, and I walked away with the knowledge that the money I had spent was helping my community by going back into the community.
So, this Hispanic Heritage month, I am going to continue to reflect and work to ensure that my intentions, my actions, my dollars spent, match my values and beliefs. Because it is easy to espouse equity, but until we begin to put words to actions, we won’t see the change we so desperately need.""
Lauren Enos MSW Intern
"Mi nombre es Mónica soy mexicana nací en el pueblo de Yuriria Guanajuato, para mí y mi familia es muy importante celebrar nuestra cultura y preservar nuestras tradiciones. En mi casa celebramos todos los días nuestra herencia hispana, es algo que es parte de nuestra identidad. Es muy común comer platillos tradicionales, escuchar música mexicana y celebrar nuestro día festivo. Con orgullo y respeto a nuestros antepasados vestimos nuestra ropa típica. También nos gusta participar en eventos en los cuales se celebra nuestra cultura por ejemplo el Festival Hispano que se celebra en el downtown de Grand Rapids. El festival mexicana y el más reciente el festival de cambio. En estas semanas nos gusta participar en el Arte Prize y apoyar a artistas locales hispanos. En mi familia es un orgullo ser hispanos y nos gusta compartir las bellezas de nuestra cultura con los demás y a la misma vez aprender de otras culturas."
"My name is Monica; I am Mexican; I was born in Yuriria Guanajuato, Mexico. For my family and me, it is essential to celebrate our culture and preserve our traditions. In my house, we celebrate every day our Hispanic heritage is something that is part of our identity. It is common to eat traditional dishes, listen to Mexican music and celebrate our holiday. With pride and respect for our ancestors, we wear our typical clothes. We also like to participate in events in which our culture is celebrated, for example, the Hispanic Festival held in downtown Grand Rapids. The Mexican festival and the most recent celebration of change. These weeks we like to participate in the Arte Prize and support local Hispanic artists. In my family, it is a pride to be Hispanic, and we like to share the beauties of our culture with others and at the same time learn from other cultures."
Monica Zavala SWCC Site Coordinator
"My first true experiences understanding Latinx/Hispanic heritage began as I worked in the Youth Services and Language Services departments of the Hispanic Center of West Michigan. Though I had previously lived for extended periods of time in both Spain and El Salvador, through the HCWM I experienced being immersed in a beautiful subculture of Grand Rapids that I hadn't fully appreciated or paid attention to previously, to my own chagrin. These were the first times I began to truly see my own culture and life experience within its greater context in the US, and to begin appreciating our complexities and variations, as well as my own privilege as a white person. I will forever be grateful for the times Latinx/Hispanic individuals have unnecessarily but openly invited me into their lives, called me out when I caused pain or ignored my privilege, taught me, gave me space to explore and learn, and at times even allow me space into gorgeous celebrations of Latinx/Hispanic culture. Even as an interpreter and translator, as someone who has spent most of their career working in primarily Latinx/Hispanic settings and organizations, I work to never take these invitations for granted, but to cherish them and recognize the vulnerability that someone is offering me. September 15 to October 15 each year is a reminder to myself to check in; how am I using my privilege to make space for others and to advance equity? Where do I still have blind spots that I need to pay attention to? How can I celebrate and cherish such complex and varied and rich cultures without appropriating them? How can I do my job(s) in a way that celebrates the Hispanic/Latinx individuals around me this month, and every month?"
Cassandra Kiger Executive Director
"I come from a family who is very proud of being Hispanic as a child we did not openly celebrate Hispanic/Latinx month because we felt very honored to be Hispanic every day. In my family, we celebrate anything from the smallest accomplishments to the big ones. The number one thing that we are most proud of is family, we treasure the moments spent together more than anything which is why we have a rule in my home that Sunday is set aside for church and family dinner gatherings. This is the number one thing that as a mother I want to pass down to my own boys as Hispanic men, you care for your family and treasure, the time spent together. Lastly, you always celebrate with amazing FOOD!"
Rocio Moreno Program Director and Burton Site Coordinator
"This month is important because my family is Dominican and well that is our culture and we love to embrace it and celebrate it. My son was born here and I love to read books with him about DR and Latino heritage overall. Our favorite book to read is called Islandborn by Junot Diaz. Hispanic Heritage celebration is pretty much everyday for us, because it is who we are. We eat Dominican food 80% of the time at home or from a local restaurants such as Carniceria Latina, Rincon Criollo or Sabor Latino. I am very proud of my roots and the fact that I am able to speak two languages very fluently. Also, that I have a home away from home in the Dominican Republic."