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Varnum Diversity Council Members Pair with Summer Associates

June 27, 2018

A recent Varnum Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council meeting at the Grand Rapids Art Museum was notable for two distinctive agenda items: a performance by Ebony Road Players, West Michigan’s Black Theatre Company, and the pairing of the firm’s seven summer associates with members of the Advisory Council.

The Community Connectors pairings began by chance ten years ago, when the firm realized that an Asian summer associate from California would be spending the long Fourth of July weekend alone in Grand Rapids, in a dorm room with no air conditioning, while most of his colleagues planned to celebrate the holiday with friends and family. A Council member, also of Asian descent, reached out to the young attorney, inviting him to spend the weekend with her family, and a friendship blossomed.

“It was a huge awakening for us, as far as recognizing the tremendous resource our Council is, with their knowledge of the community,” said Carroll Velie, Varnum director of professional development and longtime member of the firm’s Diversity Committee.

The Community Connectors program began shortly afterward and was formalized via a firm policy in 2014. The program now includes all summer associates, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. Members of the Advisory Council introduce the summer associates to various social, business and ethnic communities in West Michigan, and to other leaders and contacts who can help the aspiring attorneys and their families develop their own roots in West Michigan.

The June meeting of the Advisory Council also included a performance by members of Ebony Road Players. They performed a scene from “The Meeting,” a play that depicts a supposed meeting between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ebony Road Players is a Grand Rapids theater company whose mission is to inspire, educate and engage cultures of our community with high-quality theater productions focused on the black experience. Popular Grand Rapids jazz singer Edye Evans Hyde, who launched Ebony Road in 2014, introduced the piece and the performers.

The goal of Ebony Road Players is to create a positive sense of belonging to the community for people of color. The organization strives “to build a sense of inclusiveness by bringing all facets of the Grand Rapids community together through the beauty and strength of the performing arts.” More information about Ebony Road Players can be found on their website: ebonyroad.org

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