Real Prosperity Starts Here – BALLE Annual Conference
Last week (Tuesday May 15… same day as the Plaid Mob), Hill, Kristina, Michael and I had the privilege of going to the annual BALLE conference entitled Real Prosperity Starts Here, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After getting settled in at our dorm apartments at Aquinas College, we head over to register for the conference at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in the heart of Downtown. We got a list and map of great local businesses who were part of the Grand Rapids BALLE network, called Local First, which is the Michigan version of Be Local Northern Colorado. It was just about happy hour, so we head over to a little tapas bistro called San Chez.
The next day, not too bright in early, Michael (Baute) and I took a Farm to Fork tour of Grand Rapids, exploring restaurants that sourced locally, green houses that supported local (often low-income) communities, Lubbers Family Farm with the most beautiful cows who make the most delicious cheeses (and with an incredible story of how they got started…), and of course… a locally brewery. We started at Grove Restaurant, whose tag line is “Creative Conscientious Cuisine.” We sampled a bunch of seasonal treats, all of which were fantastic. If you are ever in Grand Rapids, make sure to stop by Grove. It was so good in fact, that we ate there on our last night.
Thursday started the conference off right with a morning of Vision
Sessions, with speakers were there to share their stories and inspire movement, change and persistence. The first highlight for me was Rha Goddess, a world renowned performance artist, activist and social entrepreneur who uses her artistic and motivational talents to heal, transform and inspire. She portrayed three different characters. 1) A young black man who was recently released from 15 years of incarceration for selling drugs as a kid in order to support his beaten mother and disenfranchised family. 2) A perky middle class white Southern woman who had recently taken out a mortgage with her husband but had gotten the dirt end of a sneaky deal that led her to owe much more than had been anticipated. 3) A 62-year-old Puerto Rican woman who rides the bus 5 hours roundtrip to go to work in order to support her grandchildren, but is facing a difficult hardship because the City is cutting the number of bus routes and times, as well as raising bus fairs. One of my passions about helping the local economy to thrive is also helping low-income and disenfranchised families to be self-advocates and self-sufficient, in turn helping the economy to thrive. Rha Goddess put on an incredible performance that brought tears to my eyes and reconnected to me to one of my deepest passions.
The other highlight was Maggie Anderson, author of Our Black Year (yes, I bought the book). With her husband and two children, the Anderson family lived exclusively off Black business and talent in or near their home town in the suburbs of Chicago, and bought only Black-made products for an entire year, representing The Empowerment Experiment.
Maggie spoke with such fervor and excitement but also with a desperate hope and enlisting. Her journey reminded me that we all have to walk the walk so that when we talk the talk, that talk has weight.
The rest of the conference was filled with exciting workshops and interactive sessions, on topics like Community Capital, other Local First networks, Conscientious Consumerism, and Sharing Successes that Thinking Local First Matters, as well as in-between moments with talented and ambitious entrepreneurs, local leaders, and excited localists. I look forward to following up
with our new friends all over the country and Canada.
And yes, a major highlight was the array of local food and beverages we got to imbibe. So here are a few tasty highlights from the conference…