The National Civic League is assisting the City of Grand Rapids, MI in a series of community outreach efforts; the work began in October 2022 and is scheduled to finish in April 2023.
We often engage the expertise of senior fellows to amplify many of our civic engagement projects throughout the U.S. Most recently, some of these experts along with League staff gathered in Grand Rapids to facilitate community conversations surrounding public safety with three underserved populations including, youth and young adults, LBGTQ+, and immigrant, Latino/ Hispanic communities.
The League implemented a strategic planning process, that included outreach to city and community leaders and a series of four focused meetings that were facilitated in mid-February 2023.These stakeholders expressed concern and skepticism about the need to address police reform issues in their strategic plans or engagement with the community in their healing related to a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man during a routine traffic stop in April 2022.
Participants from these underserved populations were able and encouraged to express their personal feelings and perspectives about safety and community engagement. Allowing for each person to define what public safety means to them, we noted that there was a range of definitions of public safety and how each person as well as population defined and expressed issues related to public safety. One self-identified Latino leader shared that safety can be defined in many ways including cultural, physical, economic, psychological, and more and how each group responds to the conversation is going to be different.
Each meeting began with time allotted to explain our role and answer any questions or concerns that might have been related to our involvement. The roundtable conversations focused on observations and lived experience related to personal safety and issues of feeling unsafe and/or at risk in areas of the city. Allowing for an open dialogue during these conversations, participants were able to express verbally and in writing if they chose, their comments in their own words followed by time for dialogue surrounding their thoughts. In order to honor anonymity in their comments and sharing we did not collect any names or contact information for any of the attendees.
Throughout the facilitated conversations, we were able to garner feedback from each group which included some very personal comments about safety that many of the participants previously had not felt comfortable sharing in other forums.
The final meeting report was given to the City Manager’s office and community members who attended the League’s meetings have been encouraged to be curious and informed about these reports. Transparency is an important component of the League’s process and matters at every stage of community engagement.
During our conversations, we were directed to a report issued by the Kent County, Michigan. We feel this is a wonderful example of an engagement plan that is well thought out and intentional to help create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for new immigrants and refugees in the Western Michigan region.
We appreciate the opportunity to assist cities like Grand Rapids in focused conversations with intent to receive feedback from underrepresented populations whose voice has not historically been at the table. We know that when all voices are heard, it helps to strengthen and build community capacity.