GR mayor focuses on racial equity in State of the City

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Encouraging diversity and racial equity were major themes at Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss’ second State of the City address Thursday evening.

In an about 45-minute speech at the city’s newest downtown concert venue, 20 Monroe Live, the mayor unveiled her “vision of a path forward.”

Bliss said the city still has much work to do to make sure everyone from minority entrepreneurs to those seeking jobs and policy influence at City Hall are successful.

“We are one community and we rise and we fall together,” she told the crowd. “Without racial equity, we cannot be prosperous.”

One initiative involves the creation of the Grand Rapids Equity Initiative, which will help groups already working on the issue.

“The Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative will aim to enhance this work, reduce fragmentation and convene key stakeholders to create specific action steps to increase equitable employment and reduce racial disparities in our city,” Bliss said.

She said she wants to create a racial equity scorecard to set benchmarks.

“So that we can say, ‘Where do we want to be in 5 years?'” Bliss explained 24 Hour News 8 after the speech. “There’s not a silver bullet here. It going to take a multipronged approach on many fronts to get to the deep-rooted issues around racial disparities.”

The mayor is also asking the city’s Community Relations Commission to work on an action plan to make the city more welcoming to immigrants. She says it’s not just a human decency issue, citing state numbers that show immigrants comprise more than 25 percent of Michigan’s technology sector.

Bliss said that as the city grows its workforce, it must make sure that workforce “reflect(s) the community we serve.”

“We will continue to encourage and recruit a true cross section of residents to get engaged and help shape our city’s future,” she said.

Bliss is in the second year of her four-year term. During her State of the City address last year, she covered a wide range of topics and initiatives, including improving police and community relations, fighting blight, improving affordable housing stock, creating an ordinance allowing food trucks, moving forward with efforts to restore the Grand River’s rapids, improving the city’s sustainability, and developing bicycle safety and awareness programs.

Thursday, she highlighted the success of one of those projects: the implementation of bicycle safety and awareness programs. She said bicycle crash fatalities were reduced from 11 in 2015 to two in 2016 over the same five-month period. She said total bike crashes were reduced by 40 percent in 2016.