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Empowering community voices through celebrated difference

As the Rapidian's new Community Engagement Specialist, I'd like to share my Grand Rapids roots and hopes for my work with The Rapidian.

/Courtesy of Briana Ureña-Ravelo

The obligatory selfie in the bathroom on the first day of work

The obligatory selfie in the bathroom on the first day of work /Briana Ureña-Ravelo

Hello! I’m Briana Urena-Ravelo, and I’m the new Community Engagement specialist at The Rapidian.

I am a community organizer, social justice activist, avid writer, poet and big mouth. I love basement shows, music, local restaurants, neighborhood cats, my own cat and wandering the city streets at night.

I’ve been active in the community for a while now, beginning with my initial forays into the all-ages music scene organizing my first show at Skelletones at the age of 14. At 16, I had the opportunity to have an internship at UICA, which led me to making a short stop motion animation film with a friend through her membership at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. For a few years in my late teens, I sat on the DAAC board, and since then I've been involved with a slew of other outreach and advocacy work, ranging from music venue facilitation to social justice advocacy.

In short, I’ve got a great, loud love for Grand Rapids. I love all the work that goes into engaging, building and nurturing its different parts, even the hard and challenging bits that a lot of folks, in all our West Michigan niceness, would rather not hear, let alone talk about.

So it follows, that this new position at the Rapidian, a part of the larger GRCMC family which had been such a joy to me in my younger teen years, gives me a chance to do the kind of local advocacy I’ve always been passionate about.

When I was growing up a first generation Afro-Latina newly transplanted to West Michigan, I learned very quickly that I was “different.” Realizing that this was okay and having the words for it was a whole ‘nother battle. Having platforms to speak my truth and explain who I am and what I went through, and my relationship to Grand Rapids, was integral to that process.

Any good local paper aims to be that community platform and works tirelessly to have all voices heard. As a news source, when we only have certain stories and narratives we publish, that leaves others that aren’t being heard.

When we only showcase certain normalized and socially-accepted faces, that means some aren’t being represented. When we give priorities to certain identities and experiences in our journalism, news reporting, opinion pieces, community showcases, photography and other media, we erase others. We inevitably become biased- and then don’t serve as a community resource that is accessible to all communities.

It is a great injustice done to those people who are left unheard.

In the end, the community at large also misses out when those communities are not given the same platform as everyone else. We often default to demanding we unify in what we have in common as as easy way to mediate prejudice and discrimination. But that forces different kinds of people to assimilate into what is considered “common” and sacrifice parts of who they are because it is “different." But different is relative and socially-constructed.

Why not instead revel in our differences and individualities and quirks? Why see it not as a deterrent but rather as what informs and makes people who they are?

It is my desire, then, to challenge any journalistic segregation and reach out so that everyone can look at The Rapidian and say “This is my community news resource.”  Not “their” community news resource, but “mine,” and most importantly, “ours.” Personally, the most impactful thing about the Rapidian is the accessibility.

The Rapidian is where all the different voices and experiences and perspectives of our city can convene in one place and you can hear about their lives. It's where you can learn about all the interesting community happenings you otherwise maybe wouldn’t know about because it all happens in “those” circles- you know, the ones we don’t run in or that we might even be skeptical about or uninterested in.

We learn about each other and better connect when we have the avenue through which to read and learn about one another- and it becomes a powerful way to challenge those preconceived notions and bigotries.

My hopes with my new position at the Rapidian is to be able to engage community members and organizations and empower them to use The Rapidian as that platform.

I aim to be the intermediary and facilitator that encourages every community’s growth in sharing their words, work, power and truths.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

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