MAPping Out A Network

May 17, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — As the business community in West Michigan flourishes, a new organization sees the importance of everyone being included in that growth.

The Multiracial Association of Professionals (MAP) is dedicated to making West Michigan a place where racial diversity can be found across all levels of the community.

Steve Robbins, director of the Woodrick Institute at Aquinas College, said that some people of color see this area as a hard place to connect. “They see it as a cold place, and we want to bring them into the community to show them that they are not the only ones. A lot of the major metropolitan areas have what is called a Welcome Wagon service; this is kind of similar to that,” said Robbins.

MAP will provide corporate and individual memberships to people of various racial backgrounds. The idea is to pair up people from different racial backgrounds to create a larger, more diverse social network.

“We want these people to teach each other things. They can learn from each other and get things that they wouldn’t from same-race relationships. Not only about being a West Michigan professional but also to share things about culture, race, ethnicity and life experiences,” added Robbins. “People would become part of larger circles and eventually get together on a monthly basis.”

The idea for the program was developed about a year ago and its existence was made public at the beginning of this month. Presently, MAP is in the first stages of getting the word out that it is here and trying to recruit members.

Brian Harris of H&H Metal Source is in charge of what he called “taking the temperature out there.

“I am looking around to see how people feel about the program, detect a level of interest and see how useful it would be to the community and the multiracial professionals in the area,” said Harris.

Harris also is involved in looking at strategy and support in terms of marketing and development steps.

The organization will be based on individual and corporate membership fees but Robbins will also seek corporate sponsorships, as well as grants and fund-raising money. The ultimate goal for Robbins, however, is to build a network.

“I hope that through the network good ideas evolve, entrepreneurial ideas. It will give people (the opportunity) to put their ideas together and maybe come up with something like a multiracial museum … where professionals can come together,” said Robbins.

Other community leaders involved in the program are Kim Covington of WZZM 13, Bruce Christensen of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP and Stan Greene of Old Kent Bank.

Harris said he feels the biggest burden will be on communication. “We need to find an effective way to get the word out to the public that we are here and also let them know what we have to offer. I have had different reactions from people and I think that is good; not everyone feels the same about it.

“Some want to get involved, others want to donate money and others will just spread the word for us. We need a well-rounded group of people and from this we will receive even better collaborations.”

It is through the collaboration of people in the community that all involved with the association hope to see Grand Rapids grow from a metropolitan area into a cosmopolitan area.

“An influential business leader in the community once said to me that Grand Rapids isn’t going to be the world-class community that it wants to be in the future, if it can’t attract and retain a sizable population of middle-class professionals of color,” said Robbins. “We hope to help that along with the Multiracial Association of Professionals.” 

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