Cultural Center Shows Off Its Purpose

NIA Centre introduces itself with My Story by Paul Collins exhibition.
NIA Centre introduces itself with My Story by Paul Collins exhibition.

The NIA Centre, a cultural center designed to celebrate and serve people of color in West Michigan, will be hosting its My Story event Tuesday, Oct. 17 at the JW Marriott to introduce itself to the community.

The nonprofit originated as the Grand Rapids African American Cultural Center, but the name was changed as the identity of the organization broadened. “Nia” is Swahili for “purpose” and Mercedes Barragan, vice chair, said there couldn’t be a more suitable name for the cultural center. “When it happened it was like ‘yes!’ she said. “We are purpose driven, and we’re here for a purpose. It just came to be the perfect name.”

The My Story event will feature a dialogue with Grand Rapids’ own Paul Collins—renowned artist and activist—and explore art, culture and experiences. The event will also be a platform for the NIA Centre to interface with the public. “This is really an opportunity for the community to get to know us,” Barragan said. “We just want to be able to share our story.”

The NIA Centre will be a transformative space where people of color can learn, grow, and explore their cultural heritage. “We want to inspire people to make this place a place that we can be proud of—a community we can be proud of,” Barragan said. “We want to build people up.”

In addition to accommodating cultural performances, art and artifacts, the NIA Centre will be an open and inclusive space for community dialogue. “There are a lot of opportunities to hold really rich dialogues on how we can come together,” Barragan said. “I think these kinds of dialogues and conversations are going to be based on what the community wants to talk about—so we have to be listening to what our community needs.”

Barragan hopes the NIA Centre will inspire West Michigan and instill a sense of unity among all communities. “We’re all connected,” she said. “Your problems are my problems, your challenges are my challenges, your successes are my successes. We want this to be a diverse and inclusive place.”

Collins’ artwork will be showcased from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the My Story event will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17—both are being held at the JW Marriot. Though the NIA Centre website indicates that tickets are 45$, Barragan said tickets are now free. Register at NIA Centre.

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