“A City Within A City” Comes to Life

At their April 2021 board meeting, the Steelcase Foundation board of trustees approved a one-year $250,000 to Grand Rapids Media Initiative and Film Incubator (GR-MiFi) to produce a 90-minute documentary on Dr. Todd E. Robinson’s 2012 book A City Within A City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The description of the book reads in part:

“A City Within A City cogently argues that the post-war political reform championed by local Republicans transformed the city’s racial geography, creating a racialized “city within a city,” featuring a system of “managerial racism” designed to keep Black people in declining inner-city areas. As Robinson indicates, this bold, provocative framework for understanding race relations in Grand Rapids had broader implications for illuminating the twentieth-century African American urban experience in secondary cities.”


The documentary will depict the ways in which Black Grand Rapidians encountered and resisted managerial racism and gatekeeping, exploring the different strategies and approaches historical figures and movements engaged.


While Dr. Robinson’s book has garnered positive feedback for its stories and messages, some readers have found its academic writing style (the text was written as Robinson’s doctoral thesis) somewhat hard to digest. The documentary in turn, would expand the reach of Robinson’s work to new audiences and bring additional color to the story through interviews and historical context to better understand the history of managerial racism and gatekeeping and how Black Grand Rapidians worked to navigate the systems and structures that disenfranchised so many. By understanding and dismantling the history, GR-MiFi hopes to use the documentary as a tool to dismantle systemic racism throughout the city for generations to come.


GR-MiFi is already hard at work in creating the documentary which is set for release in early 2022. Click here to see the trailer.