If you live in Grand Rapids, Michigan you know that in many ways it’s a great community to live in. The city can boast of a number of city parks and recreational centers in addition to being cited as one of the most affordable places to live in the United States.
But is it a friendly place to live? Is Grand Rapids a city which is hospitable to outsiders and welcoming of those who perceive life from a different orientation or life experience? Recently, my inbox received an e-mail from someone who had stumbled upon a blog post I wrote some time ago about finding a good hairdresser as an African American woman.
This e-mail echoed a sentiment that I have observed in message boards in other forums from young professionals who have mixed sentiments about the thought of making Grand Rapids, Michigan home. In essence, this individual indicated that in two years of living in Grand Rapids, she had been extremely disappointed by the lack of diversity and were it not for her job, she would have left!
And, this is not just a black/white issue… In a sense, what hangs in the balance is whether our city is a place in which people can feel comfortable within their own skin. Is Grand Rapids, Michigan a place where you can feel at home?
This issue is compelling for a number of reasons. In his book, ‘The Flight of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida writes with compelling insight about the emerging competition for global talent. According to Florida, the most valued workers in this new era will be what economist call ‘creatives’…individuals who are among the brightest, most hardworking and entrepreneurial workers in the world.
The importance of these type of workers to the economic health of any community is going to increase exponentially. According to Florida, most communities in the United State are educating a potential workforce which they are going to be sending away. There are approximately 10 cities within the United States which are successfully attracting and retaining the best and the brightest.
And…that is where the issue of discomfort comes into play. Creatives, as Richard Florida terms them cannot be typecast by race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, familial status, handicap or any of the other ways in which we try to distinguish and divide people. Creatives are an eclectic group drawn from all sectors of the human family and they are keenly aware of the implications of closed communities which do not foster a spirit of innovation.
Communities in which all people do not feel comfortable may risk more than alienating diverse people groups. They may be compromising their future.
Perhaps, a better question would be to ask…Am I a friendly person? Because after all…who is Grand Rapids. It’s me..it’s you…it’s all of us who call this city home. Perhaps, we would all do well to ask ourselves if we are open to newcomers and welcoming of individuals who think, dress, speak and act differently than what we have grown accustomed to?
How we answer these questions and express our intentions through our actions towards others may have more bearings on the progress and prosperity of our community than we could possibly fathom.