Each February, Grand Rapids celebrates Black History Month with a series of special activities and events exploring the local African American experience. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the ways African Americans have helped shape the past and present of Grand Rapids – and how African American culture is helping move the city forward in exciting new ways.
History Comes Alive
Visit the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives to explore a treasure trove of material honoring the lives, history, culture and art of local African Americans. GRAAMA will also host two book signings in February:
- Roohee Marshall Book Signing for her book “A Generation Found: Precious Pearls of Wisdom,” Feb. 5.
- “Plantation Jesus” Book Signing with Skot Welch, co-author of this book subtitled “Race, Faith, & a New Way Forward,” Feb. 12.
The Museum is home to We Are Lit, a multicultural bookshop for all ages – you can order online and pick up your books at GRAAMA.
Stroll downtown to see bronze sculptures commemorating former Grand Rapids Mayor Lyman Parks, civil rights icon Rosa Parks and Helen Claytor, the first African American president of both the Grand Rapids YWCA and national YWCA.
Embark on a free, self-guided tour of significant local sites – download informational podcasts to accompany you on the Black History Tour of Downtown and the Grand Rapids Civil Rights Tour.
Engage Grand Rapids Running Tours for an African American History on the Grand experience – you’ll burn calories while you learn about the local African American population from 1826 to present.
African American History on the Grand is a walking tour of downtown Grand Rapids that explores people, places, events and issues significant to the local African American population from 1826 until the present. Feb. 2, 14 & 21.
The Black History Walking Tour is a free tour guiding participants through a maze of African American touchstones in Downtown Grand Rapids. Jan. 30, Feb. 4, 5 & 23.
The Art of Truth
Grand Rapids Art Museum presents Dawoud Bey & Carrie Weems: In Dialogue, bringing together the works of two photo-based artists who explored and addressed similar themes of race, class, representation and systems of power. Both born in 1953, the women lived through a period of dramatic change in the social landscape and grounded their work in specific African American events and realities while simultaneously speaking to a multitude of human conditions.
See the work of four local African American artists – Jon McDonald, Lester White, Roy Robinson and Esan Sommersell-McKenzie – during the Black History Month Exhibit at Grand Valley Artists. The opening reception is Feb. 5 and the gallery will be open to the public from 2pm-5pm every Sunday in February.
The Basic Bee Boutique, a Black and woman-owned clothing boutique, is showcasing a window art installation designed by owner Renise Warners and Terrace Anderson – one of many dazzling art pieces on display in downtown GR during the World of Winter Festival.
Broadway Grand Rapids brings back Hamilton, the thrilling stage musical that revolutionized American popular theatre by casting people of color as historic white figures and blending hip-hop, jazz and R&B into the traditional art form. Feb. 8-22.
Frederick, a stage play about the life of African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman Frederick Douglass, comes to Kent Theater in Cedar Springs, Feb. 11, 12 & 13.
Opera Grand Rapids presents Stinney: An American Execution, a musical retelling of the true story of a 14-year-old African American boy who wrongfully accused of the rape and murder of two white girls, and became the youngest person legally executed in America. Feb. 25, 26 & 27.
Education & Enlightenment
The Grand Rapids Public Library hosts two beloved Black authors in virtual conversation. It’s Not All Downhill From Here: Change at Any Age – An Evening With Terry McMillan brings the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back to a Zoom event on Feb. 3, while An Evening with Author Nikki Grimes features the poet and award-winning author of more than 55 books for children and adults in a virtual discussion of her book, Glory in the Margins, on Feb. 17. Both events are free but require registration.
Grand Valley State University recognizes the history, culture, traditions and contributions of African Americans with a series of special virtual events:
- Changing the Narrative of Black Men in Higher Education, Feb. 3.
- The Invisibility of Black Women, Feb. 8.
- Conversations of Color, Feb. 16.
- Don’t Box Me In, Feb. 21.
- 12 Pieces from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies, Op. 59 Recital, Feb. 25.
Events are free – be sure to register.
Grand Rapids Community College hosts an online event featuring LaTosha Brown, the influential co-founder of Black Votes Matter, Feb. 15.
During the month of February, Virtual Storytime at the Grand Rapids Public Library focuses on books featuring Black characters or that are by Black authors. Log in so kids can hear the story, participate in sing-alongs and get early literacy tips from a GRPL librarian. Feb. 5, 12, 19 & 26 on the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The Grand Rapids Public Library present a series of virtual concerts celebrating Black History Month:
- Debra Perry and Majestic Praise, featuring members from various ministries throughout the area, Feb. 2.
- Hey, Marco!, a local jazz/pop ensemble that weaves together intricate rhythm, melody, harmony and vocals, Feb. 9.
- Kathy Lamar, an accomplished jazz, R&B, soul and pop vocalist who is back in Grand Rapids after a successful global career, Feb. 16.
- Asamu Johnson, a unique and captivating artist who has performed with his band across the nation, Feb. 23.
All performances are free and can be viewed on the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The annual Bob Marley Birthday Bash at Billy’s Lounge celebrates the music and influence of the Jamaican legend, one of the pioneers of reggae. Feb. 5.
African American comedians bring their unique perspective to local stages this month:
- Dwayne Gill, a Detroit native, former police officer and member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., appears at Listening Room GR Feb. 10.
- T. Barb, who used laughter as a way to get through life growing up in Detroit, comes to Listening Room GR Feb. 16.
- Comedy Explosion: The Big Comedy Show at DeVos Place stars MTV's Wild N Out DC Young Fly, Karlous Miller, Chico Bean and Rip Micheals, Feb. 26.
Leyla McCalla, former cellist for the GRAMMY-winning African American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, brings her multi-instrumental, bi-lingual song stylings to Listening Room GR Feb. 18.
Taste of Soul Sunday is an annual Grand Rapids Public Library event that will take place online this year. Visit the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel for a virtual talk with the founder of the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives and an immersive cooking session from Daddy Pete’s BBQ, plus stories, music and humor. Feb. 20.
Six-time GRAMMY-winning jazz bassist Christian McBride headlines WinterFest at St. Cecilia Music Center. He’ll appear with:
- GRAMMY-winning bassist Edgar Meyer on Feb. 24.
- Acclaimed vocalist Cyrille Aimée on Feb. 25.
- Acoustic quintet Inside Straight on Feb. 26.
Lil Tecca brings his distinct melodic trap style to GLC Live at 20 Monroe on his Tecca Loves You Tour, Feb. 25.
GRNoir, the area’s first Black-owned wine & jazz club, hosts live musical performances every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Food & Drink
Sample some delectable delights at one (or more) of the area’s 30+ Black-owned restaurants.
Learn about African heritage with your kids through food, song and dance during The Motherland Cooking Xperience, a Zoom event on Feb. 24.
Celebrating Grand Rapids means celebrating the people, traditions, cultures, and of course, food! This post was initially published in 2018 commemorating Black History Month, we've updated this this…