Grand Rapids activist encourages students to get involved in their community


GVL / Rachel Slomba

Clemence Daniere, Staff Writer

The Grand Valley State University Community Learning Service Center, in partnership with the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy, held an informational meeting about activism and students’ involvement in the Grand Rapids Community. 

The talk, which took place on Jan. 26, is a part of Democracy 101, a program run by the CLSC that focuses on keeping students involved in current issues and encourages them to be active in their community. 

“The purpose of Democracy 101 is to bring light to the issues that students on our campus may be dealing with and need support and knowledge on,” said civic engagement associate Abigail Caswell.

Held in the Mary Idema Pew Library, the talk was given by Aly Bates, founder of the now-inactive organization Justice for Black Lives (JFBL). She spoke about what change she has brought and what others can learn from her time as an activist in the Grand Rapids area. 

Bates founded JFBL in June of 2020, fulfilling her desire to go behind the scenes of activism and start to make a difference in the community herself. The organization focused on bringing awareness of police brutality to Grand Rapids and surrounding areas. Rallies, protests and other forms of activism were present during the early days of the organization. 

Bates’ efforts have succeeded in bringing awareness to city commissioners and she secured a meeting with the mayor to discuss further concerns. Although change has proven to be slow and discouraging, progress is still progress in Bates’ point of view. 

Since then, JFBL has disbanded and converted into a community-based platform, Always Film the Police. The organization encourages members of the community to upload videos, pictures and verbal statements to hold police officers accountable for their actions.

Bates’ strides to make the community a safer and more accountable space for everyone is something that GVSU students can look up to and model their own actions after.

For students in the GVSU community, there are other ways to join an activist organization or make a voice heard. The CLSC is a resource that allows students to connect to organizations focused on their interests in activism. 

This year’s topic at the CSLC is “young leaders for community change,” which has allowed connections to build between students and young leaders whom they can look up to. The leaders chosen to speak for Democracy 101 are selected based on their young age and their initiative to make an impact around them. 

“Part of what we want to do is inspire students to take change and create the change they want to see,” Caswell said. 

The most effective way for students to get involved is to follow the CLSC and look out for any future events that are planned. Students can also drop by the CLSC office to talk about what they’re interested in and staff will set them up with an organization that fits that interest. 

“The first step to being an advocate is the willingness to listen and learn, so it’s important students put in the effort to listen to what others are trying to accomplish,” Caswell said. 

Students looking for more ways to get involved with activism are encouraged to visit or contact the CSLC in the Office of Student Life and visit Always Film the Police on Facebook.