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Women's Way honors historic GR women, transforming alleyways

Posted at 11:50 AM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 11:50:32-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Walking through downtown Grand Rapids you might come across a few colorful alleyways with women painted on the walls.

The alleyways are being used as the canvases of the latest public space activation art project, known as the Women's Way Initiative.

It was designed to highlight women throughout Grand Rapid's history and improve alleyways.

"With the Women's Way project, we wanted to take back alleyways in the name of women," said Jasmine Bruce, an artist on the Women's Way Project. "It was important for us to highlight that space and specifically woman because you know it's not necessarily a safe space for a woman, alleyways, and then renaming the alleyway actually after that specific woman."

The project was made possible by the Grand Rapids Women's History Council, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc and Lions and Rabbits art gallery.

"There's you know locations all over the world, for parks and streets named after men, usually white men, and there's nothing really all over the world they named after women, and we wanted to change that," said Kimberly Van Driel, Director of Public Space Management for Downtown Grand rapids Inc.

The Grand Rapids History Council helped to identify the women featured in the project.

"They helped to identify a lot of women that, you know, our local citizens don't necessarily know but definitely should,' said Van Driel. "The women that we've chosen are related, or related and tie to these locations in some sort of way."

So far the project features four alleyways and four women, all painted by local artists.

Harriet Woods Hillis behind the Grand Rapids Police Headquarters in the alley off of Louis St NW.

Hill was the first African American woman officer at the GR Police Department. She started as a clerk typist in the records and identification bureau, worked in the Juvenile Division and eventually rose to become the first female detective in GRPD history.

The Hill mural was created by Jasmine Bruce.

Ethel Coe is located behind 20 Monroe Live off Monroe Ave NW.

Coe was a community activist, renaissance woman, musician, actor and civil rights leader. She received the William Glen Trailblazer Award and worked with Family Life Council, Church Women United, National Association of Urban Leagues and St. Joseph Center.

The Ethal Coe mural was created by Esan Sommersell.

Angeline Kelsey "Naw Kay O Say" Yob is located off of Sheldon Ave NE between the Grand Rapids Children's Museum and The Apartment Lounge.

Yob was an educator, community activist and Citizen of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. She was the great, great, great-granddaughter of Chief Maish Ke Aw She, who was one of the signatories of the Treaty of 1855, which provided terms for removal of the Grand River Ottawa from the Grand River Valley. She worked three decades with Grand Rapids Public Schools in the Native American Education Program.

The Yob mural was created by Alan Compo.

The GR Chicks 1945 All American Baseball team is behind the Auto Fixit Body Shop in the alley off of Newberry St NW.

The Grand Rapids Chicks were one of two new teams to be added to the League in 1945. The league started as a non-profit which solicited contributions to the League from businesses in the team cities. The former Milwaukee Chicks moved to Grand Rapids and half of the players from the 1944 team returned to Grand Rapids under this new management.

Michi Farias created the GR Chicks mural.

The next alleyway to be added to the project is located off of Fulton St W next to San Chez: A Tapas Bistro and will feature Maurilia Ortiz Blakely.

Blakely is known as an educator and Hispanic activist.

For more information about the project, click here.