by Kayla Tucker
Achieving a historic first is significant–achieving several is groundbreaking.
William J. Hardy, a New York State native who moved to Michigan in 1827, is one such groundbreaking individual. Hardy is credited with being the first documented African American landowner in Kent County as well as the first African American in the state to be elected to public office and the head of Seventh Day Adventist Church.
To preserve this family of pioneers and others like them, Grand Rapids has recently welcomed the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Achieves (GRAAMA), a new museum dedicated to showcasing the stories of influential African American individuals and honoring their unforgettable achievements.
Remember and Learn
The GRAAMA stands proudly at 87 Monroe Center. Just beyond its large glass doors is a world packed with important moments in history, frozen in time for all to visit and commemorate. Many pieces of African art and original paintings hang alongside modern posters on the museum’s walls. Display cases are filled with Jim Crow era memorabilia, artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement and photographs. Specific items on display include a mock-up of the Rosa Parks bench by artist Ed Dwight and a pack of matches from the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
“We want our museum to be a place for all people,” George Bayard III, director of GRAAMA, said. “A lot of times people think African American history and culture is separate from American culture and history, and it’s not, it’s a part of it.”
Bayard moved from Delaware to Grand Rapids 30 years ago and opened the Bayard Gallery of Fine African American Art in 1989. The gallery housed artwork by local and national African American artists and specialized in framing.
At first, Bayard was nervous about his gallery, unsure about whether or not it would be accepted by the community. Once more and more people began visiting the gallery and purchasing artwork, Bayard discovered that his idea had gained a great amount of respect and support.
“We were the only gallery in West Michigan devoted to artists of color,” Bayard said. “People told us that when they wanted to get artwork, they would go to Detroit or Chicago. We thought it would be a great opportunity to start selling artwork here.”
In 2014, Bayard began collaborating with a team of like-minded people to open a local African American history museum. With just a handful of ideas and a basic starting point, items and inspirations quickly began falling into Bayard’s lap.
“Through our gallery we were a cultural hub,” Bayard said. “People would come to us all the time with items that were left with them. We just started collecting items that way, not really knowing the historical significance.”
Bayard said he knew the timing was right when he noticed African American museums opening in surrounding areas, including Muskegon, and decided to make his plan a reality.
Backing for the museum came from fundraising events and a generous $50,000 grant from the Dyer Ives Foundation.
It was a hard push to the finish line. Originally, the museum wasn’t supposed to open until November of 2016, however, just a week before ArtPrize, Bayard found himself rushing to get the walls painted and move all of the items into the space.
His hard work paid off. Bayard and thousands of people who attended ArtPrize each year celebrated the GRAAMA’s grand opening.
“We know we can call the Smithsonian anytime and get a touring exhibit on slavery, on Obama, on African artifacts,” Bayard said. “But we are the only ones that can tell the local story.”
Among the local artifacts are a baseball bat from the Negro League of Grand Rapids and a photo of the first African American police officer in Grand Rapids. Books by local authors are for sale as well as hand crafted clothing and accessories.
Bayard said GRAAMA is looking for specific items to expand the local collection, like never-before heard tapes from Malcom X’s 1962 speech in Grand Rapids, personal items of Motown legend and Grand Rapids native Al Green, as well as that of Grand Rapids’ first African American Mayor, Lyman Parks.
World-renowned boxer and Grand Rapids native Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is also said to be donating person items to the museum.
“We hope that the story that he’s able to tell is one of a kid from the neighborhood who now is a multi- millionaire just by following his dream,” Bayard said. “That’s a story that we hope to duplicate over and over again with the people we honor in our museum.”
GRAAMA staff and volunteers are also working to create an oral history with some of Grand Rapids’ eldest residents. “Grandma’s Voices” is their first oral history project and seeks to provide insight into a now bygone era through the voices of those who experienced it.
“We feel that grandmothers were the people in the family who kept the history, who kept the traditions, so we want to honor grandmothers,” Bayard said. “We interview men too, but we always ask people, ‘Do you remember your grandmother?’”
The museum will also be utilizing an African American tradition to recognize donors—their names will be sewn into a patchwork quilt by the African American Quilting Guild.
The GRAAMA will have a different exhibit each month with a corresponding theme. For February, the museum will be showcasing a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in honor of Black History Month.
Bayard and the GRAAMA board are seeking to grow the museum through fundraising efforts, donations and community partnerships. This May, they are collaborating with Broadway Grand Rapids to bring Motown the Musical to Devos Place, with all proceeds going toward the museum.
Bayard is looking to expand the GRAAMA into a $5 million museum near Division Street and Hall Avenue, on the south side of Grand Rapids, by 2018. He envisions an innovative, eco-friendly multi-level museum and archive center with a gift shop, auditorium and interactive exhibits.
Currently the museum is free to the public, but after moving Bayard said there will be a ticket cost and the option to pay for a membership.
“One of the other things we hope to do is stimulate jobs and hire minority folks to do some of our services, but we also would like to help spur other development in the area,” Bayard said.
How to Get Involved
There are volunteer opportunities at the GRAAMA. The museum is also looking for donated items to expand their collection. Contact Bayard at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Latarro Traylor and Jennie Schumacher of Downtown GR Inc at GRAAMA
“We want our museum to be a place for all people.” – George Bayard III, director of GRAAMA
February GRAAMA Events:
Feb. 1 – GRAAMA will present a touring poster exhibit from the Smithsonian called, “Lift Every Voice: A Place for All People.”
Feb. 5 – The Grand Rapids Art Museum presents “Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects,” where some of the local voices from “Grandma’s Voices” will be featured.
Feb. 5 – A month of GRAAMA sponsored programming will begin airing on WGVU-TV at 6 p.m. The 15- program series is in celebration of Black History Month and will highlight and celebrate African American culture and heritage.
Feb. 10 – For the annual Valent-ICE Festival in downtown Grand Rapids, a life-size Muhammad Ali ice sculpture will be showcased outside the GRAAMA. There will be a pop-up photo exhibit inside the museum on Muhammad Ali’s life in Michigan.
Feb. 11 – Collectors can visit the museum at 10 a.m. for “What’s Your History Worth?” to get advice on collecting African American art, artifacts, books and dolls.
Feb. 25 – A free elementary genealogy class will be held at 10 a.m. for beginners wanting to learn more about their family history.
Future Events for GRAAMA:
May 2-7 – GRAAMA will collaborate with Broadway Grand Rapids for “Motown the Musical.” The museum staff will be fundraising at the event and will present a pop-up exhibit.
July 25 – “Riot, Race and Reconciliation” is a mini-documentary about the 1967 Civil Rights Uprising in Grand Rapids. To mark the 50th anniversary of the uprising, the documentary will be shown, followed by a panel discussion and photo exhibit. The event will be co-sponsored by Grand Valley State University.
10th Annual Legacy Ball
In celebration of Black History Month, Grand Rapids will host the 10th annual Legacy Ball on Friday, Feb. 24 at the JW Marriott. The event, facilitated by JA PR Group, is held each February to honor the achievements of influential individuals within the African American community. This year’s theme, “Black History is Everybody’s History,” is designed to spark a sense of unity and support among all people in the surrounding community.
Since it’s creation nine years ago, the Legacy Ball celebration has been extended from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo and Detroit. More than $70,000 in student scholarships and grants to local nonprofit organizations have been distributed throughout these communities, leaving behind a legacy of important, inspirational and joyful connections.
Several student scholarships will be presented at the award ceremony, as well as an award honoring outstanding community leaders.
This lively event maintains a full night of networking, congratulatory awards, delectable h’orderves, live entertainment and celebratory drinks. Most importantly, the Legacy Ball is intended to encourage diversity among local communities and create an environment filled with support and memorable conversation.
What: 10th annual Legacy Ball
Where: JW Marriott, 235 Louis Campau St. NW in Grand Rapids
When: Friday, Feb. 24 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Cost: $100 per person
Attire: Formal attire
Taste of Soul Sunday
Celebrate African American history and culture at Taste of Soul Sunday at the Grand Rapids Public Library on Feb. 19, 1-4:30 pm. Sample African American art, music, literature, history, and food.
Enjoy performances by Glenda Williams, Kathy Lamar, Sound Proof and Young Men 4 Christ. See presentations on hair wrapping, African American history in West Michigan and African American inventors. Free food samples provided by: Malamiah Juice Bar, Daddy Pete’s, Big Ed’s BBQ and Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant.
Free and open to the public. Call (616) 988-5400 or visit www.grpl.org/tasteofsoul for more information.
What: Taste of Soul Sunday
Where: Grand Rapids Public Library (111 Library St. NE, Grand Rapids)
When: Sunday, February 19, 1-4:30 p.m.
Celebrate Black History further with these Grand Rapids events happening this month: