GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — During the summer of 2020, the Grand Rapids Police Department stood as the epicenter for tension surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.
For this reason, it may be unexpected that months later GRPD is home to a massive, vibrant mural of Harriet Woods Hill.
Miss Woods Hill is a black, female leader from West Michigan.
Current black, female officer at GRPD, Officer Jordan Ervin-Wakefield tells us, "I think in 1955 she was the first black woman to become a police officer."
Harriet was the first, and 66 years later Officer Ervin-Wakefield is one of the many female, black GRPD officers working for our community.
"Then in the 70s, I believe, 1977, she was the first female into the detective unit, which was really awesome," notes Officer Ervin-Wakefield.
"She really paved the way for myself, and then all of my female co-workers."
Breaking down barriers for future women wasn't always easy, would you expect it to be?
Harriet fought for her position at GRPD.
She's quoted saying; “I came there to do a job, and I wasn’t going to allow [anyone] to force me to quit working because [of their] prejudices.”
This proud mentality is one that the artist behind the mural, Jasmine Bruce, strenuously worked to capture.
"Including her in her uniform was super important to me because she was only as a female... they didn't wear uniforms back then in the 50s," says Jasmine.
"So she only really worked in it like a couple of times, I really wanted to have her in that moment, you know? In her uniform to just really highlight that."
Harriet's mural is one of four murals in Downtown Grand Rapids showcasing historic Grand Rapids women.
They're all part of "Women’s Way GR," an initiative by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and area partners.
They're also all painting a vivid picture of past leaders we can learn from as we navigate our current challenges.
Jasmine reflects saying; "It's just, any other time... I don't think it would have meant as much, you know?"
"I would say, it's better to build bridges instead of burn them and that's all I really want to do," notes the artist.
Officer Ervin-Wakefield leaves us with this; "I'm proud, you know? I go home proud every single day knowing the job that I've done, and I'm proud to continue the legacy that that she started many years ago."
Jasmine says this mural is far from the end of the "Women's Way Initiative."
She hopes the artworks downtown become annual additions during Women's History Month.
We can expect Jasmine's next mural across the street from Grand Rapids Police Department at San Chez Bistro.