Administrators: Grand Rapids Christian Schools Intentionally Combat Racism, Traces City’s Underbelly

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

AMDG Architects Speaker Series 235cutline No. 1(left to right): AMDG Architects principal Peter Baldwin, Grand Rapids Christian High School chaplain Mark Kuiper and Grand Rapids Christian Middle School principal Ashanti Bryant discussed racism’s continued problems and solutions.The "Mustache Saga" remains a vivid example of how racism reared its head in Grand Rapids in the late 1960s, said Grand Rapids Middle School principal Ashanti Bryant.

Black male students who came of age in 1966-67 were ordered by white South High School administrators in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district to shave their mustaches.

Often times the deed was done in the hallway, said Bryant. It was a time when black civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X all sported hair on their upper lip, and thus the mustache ban, which was eventually rescinded, was considered a slight against black students.

The students' victory over the ban was hailed as a tactical shift in the city's black freedom struggle.

"There are grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have grandparents who remember that experience," said Bryant. "The legacy can still bee seen in the heart of our city."

Bryant added that to this day: "There is a hopelessness in a whole community of people because of a caldron of crime and fatherlessness."

An unusual mix

When it comes to race relations, Grand Rapids is an unusual mix.

In the mid-1940s, the city was a model of integration, even at the center city area, said Bryant.

But racial and cultural diversity did not last, added Bryant who, along with Mark Kuiper, chaplain for Grand Rapids Christian Schools, spoke at a recent speaker series 17 people attended that was sponsored by AMDG Architects, 25 Commerce Ave. SW.

Why it still matters

In the light of the 21st century, why are these historical realities still relevant? Kuiper and Bryant asked.

AMDG Architects Speaker Series cutline No. 2Questions Grand Rapids Christian School faculty are asked.Why does the history of Grand Rapids' race relations have any bearing on its student population and in the broader scope, of the residents of Michigan's second largest city?

"Grand Rapids was recognized as an All-American City beginning in 1949 (and subsequent years after that)," said Bryant. "It was credited for having a strength in the area of racial integration."

But as research demonstrates, such a reputation was a canard, added Bryant.

City Within a City

Bryant cited the book titled, "A City within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan" by Todd E. Robinson, which was a case study of the civil rights era that focused specifically on the struggles involving school integration and bureaucratic reforms in Grand Rapids.

In 1963, 98 percent of African-American residents in Grand Rapids lived in the center city. Conversely, two families lived in East Grand Rapids, 12 in Wyoming and fewer than that lived in Grand Rapids' Northeast and Northwest sections.

Much of this can be attributed to gerrymandering, or manipulating the boundaries of neighborhoods that allowed whites to live in specific areas of the city and blacks in another. It was taken a step through "redlining" various neighborhoods, a practice that involved drawing red lines on a map to delegate neighborhoods by a specific race/ethnicity.

But then four men, Dr. Julius Franks, Joseph Lee, E. Adams and Samuel Triplett, broke the logjam by trying to change the racial backlash by placing a bid of $20,500 on 20 acres of land the city was selling that was north of Leonard Street and east of Fuller Avenue near Sweet Street.

The Grand Rapids City Commission responded by raising the price to $54,250.

The four men counter offered with a bid of $60,000 and a promise white and black families would be allowed to purchase the homes they built.

Stanley J. Davis, who was the city's mayor from 1958-64, signed the agreement but two Second Ward city commissioners fought the agreement and successfully argued it needed to be ratified by the commission.

A residential group that was named the White Citizens Committee protested the sale.

Eventually the purchased was approved and 64 homes were constructed, which were bought by white and black purchasers.

A hard-fought battle

It was a hard-fought battle that illustrates the unsavory, unbiblical racial linage of Grand Rapids, said Bryant.

Grand Rapids Christian Schools takes intentional steps to address racism, Bryant said.

"All new staff have to participate in an anti-racism workshop," he said. "We have an intentional mixed group of people from our staff and other people from the city of different ethnicities lead it. From our school staff, we talk about how race is a manmade constant. It didn't come from God."

At Grand Rapids Christian Schools, the ethnic mix of its student population in the last 10 years has increased between 20 to 25 percent.

"We made a decision to address racism," Bryant said. "Christ compels us to do so."

Mark Kuiper, Grand Rapids Christian High School chaplain in the spiritual life office, said he is encouraged the millennial students are more adaptable and accepting of people of all races.

Time for a dialogue

"They seem to get it," Kuiper said. "We created at the high school a dialogue during lunch which one ethnic culture provides kids with foods from their country and we talk about the difference between their culture and what it's like to be here, and how can we do it differently?"

Kuiper said they've asked "some of the harder questions" including: Do minority students believe their teachers treat them differently than white students?

Asian students reply they feel singled out because their teachers cannot pronounce their names so they adopt a European name.

Black female students say they believe black males are celebrated more so for their athletic prowess while they only hear about their hairstyles.

"I'm a white guy," said Kuiper. "I need to ask questions and broaden my experience and broaden the Kingdom of God."
Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

Related Articles

No Related Articles Found

home app07 envelope
Submit News
RSS Feed
home app09 playVideos
faith-buttonPlease consider helping us by contributing to our publication. 

Donate directly or advertize your business on this site or in our newsletter.  It reaches thousands across West Michigan.