The Rapidian

Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses sets precedent for minority neighborhood revitalization

Jamiel Robinson is on a mission: by fostering dialog and raising awareness he hopes to elevate the black business community to viable and sustainable heights.
Jamiel Robinson

Jamiel Robinson /Eric Tank


Look for the website coming in October. Until then, follow GRABB on Facebook

Pop-up at Richard App Gallery

Pop-up at Richard App Gallery /Courtesy of GRABB

Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) was launched in July of 2013 by lifelong resident Jamiel Robinson to build awareness and give a voice to an under -epresented African-American business community in the greater Grand Rapids area. 

In a little over a year, Robinson has garnered plenty of attention from local media such as Grand Rapids Business Journal, Grand Rapids Magazine, and Rapid Growth Media. He was invited by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, where he gave a speech on the importance of supporting economic development in the Black community. And just recently, Local First honored Robinson with the Local Hero Award.

"We've seen a tremendous response from the community, from local leaders, from community foundations- who are all interested in what is coming," says Robinson. 

What started initially with simply creating a business directory that now boasts over a hundred businesses listed, now has evolved to GRABB-facilitated events such as pop-up shops where area business leaders can connect and foster support for one another. Robinson also initiated the 30 Days 30 Dollars challenge, an awareness creating tool praised by "Our Black Year" author Maggie Anderson. The challenge asks participants to pledge to spend 30 dollars over the course of a month on locally owned area Black businesses. The third and most recent challenge saw over a hundred participants with some businesses reporting sales increases of up to 75%.  

Robinson is ready to point out that he is not encouraging shoppers to patronize businesses simply because they're Black owned. 

"It's not about supporting any and every black business. I say find products and services that you value, that you love, that you appreciate and support those businesses," says Robinson. "I'm not looking for it to be a charitable thing - oh, I went to a black business, I really don't care for anything I see here but I'll still spend five dollars- that's not really sustainable. It's finding those businesses that you value their products, that you value their services and you continue to go back and develop that relationship with that business until you become a regular customer. That's sustainability."

Last Thanksgiving GRABB promoted "Black Market," a "black Friday before black Friday," says Robinson. This year he has tweaked the theme to include an awards ceremony for Black business owners on the Friday before Thanksgiving and then encourage shopping the next day on Saturday. 

The creation of a website is also under construction, and Robinson hopes to launch it in October. A roll out party showing off the functionality will be arranged at the time of the launch. 

Robinsonspends his days as a team director of youth development at the downtown YMCA and moonlights as GRABB's CEO.

"GRABB is like building a house," says Robinson of the confluence between his day and night jobs. "But if you don't teach those coming up how to maintain it the house will fall down." 

As a priority on Robinson's list, he would like to see the development of a Black business district. 

"One of the things that I'm really advocating for, planning and actually doing research on is the creation of a black business district," says Robinson. 
He says that he is unaware of any community program that is not based on economic development that is truly sustainable. And that's why he set up GRABB as a for-profit entity. 
"Realizing that the only way to improve the community, revitalize the community, create opportunities was through having viable businesses that then employ us back into the community," says Robinson.
In an attempt to slow down gentrification Robinson says he is "advocating more for a geographically consistent economic plan that the city doesn't have for the black community." 
With the majority of the African American population concentrated in the Southtown third ward, Robinson looks to places where the infrastructure is already in place such as Madison Square or Kalamazoo at Burton.
"What I'm looking to do with the black business district is to ensure as much as possible that the indigenous population benefits from that economic investment that is taking place," says Robinson. 
According to Robison one of the most important resources is access to capital, and he would eventually like to establish a fund for such dollars. In the meanwhile, Robinson has his work cut out for him. With his passion for social justice, entrepreneurial drive and a commitment to empowering community, Robinson is a true Grand Rapids civic investor.   

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.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.