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Category: Community

Creating this thriving West Michigan restaurant while battling cancer ‘was part of his recovery’

Rosario of Maya Mexican Cafe

From the sombreros hanging on the wall to the “equipales” around the tables to the “muñecas” on display, so much of the décor inside Maya Mexican Grill & Bar is authentic, imported from the land of our neighbors to the south.

Then there’s the live mariachi music on Saturday nights and the delicious sugar- and salt-rimmed margaritas at the bar. And, of course, the extensive menu of genuine Mexican dishes such as Huachinango, Tampiquena and heaping Parrilladas is very tasty, or, shall we say, muy sabroso.

If you’ve never been to Mexico, step inside Andy Rosario’s restaurant in Rogers Plaza Town Center for the next best thing. Maya Mexican Grill is anything but watered down.


“In every sip of your drink you feel the tequila,” said Michael Martinez, bartender in the flourishing restaurant along 28th Street SW in Wyoming. “We always try to do our best to make it with a little bit extra. We always try to take care of our tables the greatest.”

Authentic Equipales at Maya Mexican Grill

In addition to booth seating, Maya Mexican Grill & Bar inside the Rogers Plaza Town Center features authentic ‘equipales,’ or chairs.

Just five years old, Maya Mexican Grill recently made the Top 10 of Michigan’s Best Mexican Restaurant Search. That’s especially interesting since Rosario, the owner, is a native of the Dominican Republic – and a cancer survivor.

When Rosario came to the United States as a boy, he lived with an uncle who owned a grocery store and as he got older Andy ran the store after school. That background led him to start one of the area’s first food trucks about a decade ago, when the trend was just making its way into West Michigan.

It was while running “El Loco Hungry” that Rosario honed his business mentality and whet his appetite for serving the public and interacting with customers. Soon, he was poised to open a full-service restaurant with a liquor license.

Pina Maya dinner at Maya Mexican Grill

Andy Rosario says he ‘found the passion of serving’ while operating one of the early food trucks in Grand Rapids. Now, he’s serving up delicious dishes such as the Pina Maya dinner at Maya Mexican Grill & Bar.

Rosario opted for a menu and ambiance rooted in his wife’s Mexican heritage, yet several unique dishes such as the Pina Maya – a hollowed-out half pineapple filled with steak, chicken, chorizo or shrimp – are infused with Dominican influences.

Maya Mexican Grill opened in 2014. Then, just a few months later, at age 36, Rosario was diagnosed with cancer. Nasal carcinoma, Stage 4. There was a tumor touching his carotid artery.

Against long odds, eight weeks of treatment in Ann Arbor proved successful and shrunk the mass. Rosario survived. Maya Mexican Grill began to thrive.

“Instead of sitting at home focused on his health, he was focused on Maya,” said Elizabeth Rosario, Andy’s wife and a local attorney. “I think that kind of helped him. That was part of his recovery.

“He’s always had this positivity to him. He’s my hero. I’m just super proud of him.”

Now 40, the soft-spoken Rosario looks back on his cancer as if it were a fever: “Take some Tylenol and move on,” he says. He poured himself into his restaurant, ensuring his kitchen has the freshest, choicest ingredients for dishes that Michigan’s Best raved about including fried red snapper (Huachinango), steak (Tampiquena) and an overflowing “molcajete,” or stone bowl, of grilled meats and vegetables featuring jalapeño peppers the size of bananas (Parrilladas) – not to mention a variety of classic fajitas and tacos.

décor at Maya Mexican Grill

The décor at Maya Mexican Grill & Bar features authentic art, figurines and other items from south of the border.

Rosario has adorned the walls with sombreros from Guadalajara and imported traditional Mexican chairs called “equipales.” On one trip to the Mayan archaeological site at Chichén Itzá, he found a heavy statue that was a pain to get through customs but makes a perfect mascot for the restaurant.

And, ironically, Maya Mexican Grill features artwork depicting an ancient calendar with a Mayan god bearing the burden of time on his back, kneeling under the weight of it. For Rosario, now cancer free, time is a gift, one he’s happy to share with guests.

“We’re still standing after all the struggle,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”

And it’s worth celebrating.

“I want people to come and enjoy with family and friends and have a good time. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Why the last ethnic neighborhood in Detroit is more vibrant than ever

Greektown Heritage Fest

Ask Christos Moisides about what the Greektown neighborhood means to Detroit, and he’s quick to respond:

“It’s been one of the heartbeats of Detroit for many, many decades,” said Moisides, whose family has owned businesses in the district on the city’s near Northeast side for years. “It means a lot to continue the tradition of what Greektown was and then be a part of transition it into what Greektown will continue to be.”

That’s the same assessment offered up by Tasso Teftsis, the owner of the legendary Astoria Bakery.

“(Greektown) is special to Detroit because it’s the last ethnic neighborhood that is still living and vibrant,” he said. “It’s special to Greeks around here, they feel ownership of Greektown, and we have a responsibility to keep it going.”

Greektown was established in the 1880s as a residential district where immigrants could hold on to their culture as they adapted to a new way of life. It morphed to a commercial streetscape led by family-owned businesses and marked by historic properties and Victorian era architecture.

The area’s cultural legacy was on full display this summer during the second annual Greektown Heritage Festival, which drew thousands of people to explore Monroe Avenue between Brush and St. Antoine streets on July 27.

 

 

The event served as a reminder of the Hellenic influence in the neighborhood, but it was also an introduction to one of the city’s prime entertainment district and diverse shopping experiences.

Residents and visitors strolled through the neighborhood watching lamb being traditionally roasted on a spit over open flames, Greek entertainers singing and dancing and a children’s area with balloon artists and inflatable playhouses.

The day-long festival is led by the Greektown Preservation Society with sponsorship by the Greektown Casino-Hotel, which opened in 2007 and has helped the area evolve while staying true to its roots.

“Greektown Casino-Hotel are awesome neighbors,” Teftsis said. “They are a big part of the festival, but they’re also a big part of the community, a part of our Greektown neighborhood partnership…it’s really an exciting time for Greektown.”

While Greektown’s history is evident in its name, the district has also served as a melting pot of cultures, one of which is shown through mutual support to and from The Old Shillelagh, an iconic Irish bar at the corner of Brush and Monroe streets. Owner Shellie Lewis said the festival is a chance to learn more about neighbors who share the goals of keeping Greektown strong.

“There’s a lot of new businesses coming in, and it is making this an even better place to be,” Lewis said. “If it wasn’t for Greektown Casino and Hotel, we wouldn’t be able to pull off the event. They are pillars of the community.”

Moisides, meanwhile, said as other areas of Detroit attract attention for their rebirth, it’s important to remember that Greektown never went away. It’s part of the pulse of Detroit, Moisides said.

“For the longest time, Greektown was everything,” Moisides said. “It’s still such a vital part of the community, where you have vibrant businesses and a great pulse of the area. It’s a place where everyone’s coming to see what’s happening and (wants to be) a part of the community.

“It’s still a safe family environment during the daytime and turns into a great entertaining, kind of nightlife hospitality enhanced area in the evenings.”

Project 1 opening weekend and beyond: Don’t miss these events

Project 1 logo

Dancers rappelling off a rooftop to perform intricate routines 100 feet above street level on the side of a building in downtown Grand Rapids.

A cellist who creates a blend of hip-hop, folk, soul and classical music like has never been heard before in a Southeast Side park.

The U.S. debut of drag queens and kings living with Down Syndrome and expressing themselves on stage.

The artists and their mediums challenge the status quo.

And that’s exactly what the founders of Project 1 – the brainchild of ArtPrize organizers who are launching the public art exhibition’s new biennial structure on Sept. 7 – want to do. It’s part of the intentional effort to confront boundaries, both visible and invisible, that affect a sense of belonging.

“These artists are crossing lines of their genres and putting on a performance that people have never seen,” said Derek Call, ArtPrize’s director of operations and production. “We want people to be comfortable experiencing something new, and we are shining a spotlight on Grand Rapids as the place to go for art that opens your eyes to more than what is normally part of your life.

“The entire exhibition and the events we’ve curated around them will have people asking themselves ‘Will I ever witness anything like this again?’”

Project 1 bases five artists’ works at three sites around Grand Rapids. The artists – Amanda Browder, Heather Hart, Olalekan Jeyifous, Paul Amenta and Ted Lott and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – were carefully selected, and the locations in downtown, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park and at a former manufacturing plant, were chosen to bring art to the people. It also is designed to take people to places in the city they may not have visited before.

Although the exhibition is primarily a self-guided exploration, there are free event-based performances and programming around artists’ installations. Project 1 leaders have structured the opening weekend with performances at each site. After that, the exhibition will highlight one location per weekend.

Here’s the itinerary for the free events and when to get a first glimpse of the art when it is amplified:

Opening Day, Sept. 7

The first Project 1 opens at noon at Rosa Parks Circle with a celebratory ribbon-cutting, the amazing elevated choreography of BANDALOOP as well as

Courtesy BANDALOOP/Jessica Swanson

Courtesy BANDALOOP/Jessica Swanson

dancers from the Grand Rapids Ballet performing on one half of Hart’s The Oracle of the Soulmates, a rooftop sculptures that will have an installation component in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. At 1 p.m., Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will take part in an artist discussion.

The day progresses to the park, where the second half of Hart’s installation will be available for viewing along with Amanda Browder’s largest work in Kaleidoscopic. Browder’s vibrant fabric creation will be draped over the exterior of a community center building. The park will also be the setting for cellist Jordan Hamilton’s musical fusion at 2 p.m., and an artist conversation with Hart and Browder.

The final part of the opening ceremonies takes art explorers to Tanglefoot, a former flypaper manufacturing campus that is now home to urban artist studios. Artists Paul Amenta and Ted Lott, who created Critical Infrastructure to focus on issues of accessibility, will have a 6 p.m. conversation with collaborators Chris Smit and Jill Vyn of DisArt.

DisArt will later host the Underground Drag show at a location to be determined.

Call said Project 1 staff hope to form a caravan of sorts with people flowing from site to site and taking in the installations as the opening weekend energy builds.

“It’s going to be a really great day with some moments visitors won’t want to miss,” he said. “We’re giving people an opportunity to interact with the art and the artists. We plan to carry that on throughout the event.”

Saturday, Sept. 14

The focal point of Project 1’s second weekend turns to the Blue Bridge over the Grand River and to the city’s West Side, which is hosting its annual street fair. The bridge is home to Lozano-Hemmer’s Voice Bridge, an installation on the iconic span’s handrails that allow participants to record a message and then experience it as it plays back on a loop while jumping from speaker to speaker.

Project 1 has enlisted Dan Deacon, a nationally recognized composer and performer, to take control of the interactive piece that is part architecture and

Dan Deacon: Courtesy Paradigm Talent Agency

Dan Deacon: Courtesy Paradigm Talent Agency

part performance art. Deacon, who has worked with artists ranging from Miley Cyrus to The Flaming Lips, will use the sound system and 400+ lights for a one-of-a-kind electronic music show.

The show begins at 8 p.m. as night sets in on Grand Rapids and the light displays will sync to the beat of the performance.

“Dan’s amazing and it’s going to be so cool to have him perform and have the lights responding to the music and the vibration,” Call said. “The Blue Bridge has never seen anything like this, that’s for sure.”

Saturday, Sept. 21

It’s time for a city-wide slow roll bicycle ride that takes art lovers to all three Project 1 locations and builds community by bringing together visitors and area residents. The ride is open to all skill levels and is not a timed event, Call said.

“This is a nice and easy ride, and it’s a really unique way to see the installations and meet new people along the way,” Call said.

The guided tour, which is approximately eight miles and will be roughly an hour of ride time, starts downtown at 8:30 a.m., features a group yoga warm-up and then makes stops at each site after taking off at 10 a.m. There is an extended stop at MLK Park, where Grand Rapids’ annual African American Art & Music Festival is taking place. Registration is required for the ride for logistical reasons and allocation of safety resources.

Organizers expect the tour to take approximately 2½ hours and the final route will bring riders past Olaleka Jeyifous’ The Boom and the Bust, a 25-foot sculpture at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The installation juxtaposes massive downtown development alongside foreclosure and displacement.

“It’s going to be a cool way to explore art and explore the city’s neighborhoods from a different vantage point,” Call said. “You won’t be rushing by in a car or thinking about something else. You’re slowing down and seeing what’s around you. That’s something we as a whole don’t do enough of, finding out more about the community that we live in.”

Saturday, Sept. 28

The last themed weekend of events returns to the Tanglefoot site with Project 1 collaborator DisArt presenting a first-person multimedia project a la the non-profit StoryCorps. Titled Voices, the project gathers and visualizes stories of alienation from disabled community members and visitors to the site. The groundbreaking and instructive piece is open from noon to 10 p.m. and is set among the installations at the site.

“One thing we’re trying to do is give people a sense of belonging and a feeling that they’re welcome anywhere in the city,” Call said. “No one should be excluded because they don’t live somewhere or they don’t look a certain way. We all have our own story.”

The final month

Project 1 leaders believe visiting the installation sites during planned performances and then on a return self-guided visit will lead to different experiences. Pieces might strike a contrasting chord or be viewed in a different light. Perhaps guests will be more informed or more focused on the art.

“There will be moments that if you miss them, you’ll miss them and the interactivity can’t be recreated,” ArtPrize Artistic Director Kevin Buist said. “We think that will draw audiences and excite and inspire the visitors to gather together. And then people will want to go and get another unique look at the installations.

“That’s what we want people to do, to challenge themselves to see more.”

Visit the Project 1 website to learn more about the public art exhibition.

Learning through play: Grand Rapids Children’s Museum program gets preschoolers ready for kindergarten

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and Grand Rapids Public Schools are teaming up to get more preschoolers ready for kindergarten through the growing ‘Purposefully Playing Toward Kindergarten’ program.

On one side of the classroom, a few children gathered around a sewing machine and put buttons on clothes. Three kids worked on puzzles at a table nearby. A lone boy cut out paper dolls with scissors. A girl painted at an easel.

On a play mat with pictures of roads and buildings, four boys driving matchbox cars led a teacher around town to the school and then to the supermarket.

“Where are we going to go now?” the teacher asked.

Hmm, maybe to the bin of blocks in the corner, or the play kitchen against the wall, or to a sensory table with pieces of colored macaroni.

Welcome to “Purposefully Playing Toward Kindergarten” (PPTK), a growing summer program that emphasizes open-ended play to get preschoolers ready for kindergarten.

“It looks different for each child,” said Onalee Melton, a site coordinator at Buchanan Elementary School, one of four campuses where PPTK is taking place this summer. “We have the blessing with this program to guide kids into whatever they’re excited about.”

About half of incoming kindergarteners these days are not prepared to succeed in school. In some cases, the children are lagging behind in their understanding of basic math concepts or their use of language. In other cases, they’re not quite ready socially or emotionally.

PPTK aims to build all of those kindergarten-readiness skills through a unique partnership involving the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) and donors including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Delta Dental. In the program, GRPS teachers and paraprofessionals are teaming with “play facilitators” from the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum to immerse students in four hours of open-ended play time Mondays through Thursdays for five weeks.

It’s the same kind of open-ended play the children would experience if they were to visit the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum downtown. Only the PPTK program is right at their local neighborhood school.

‘There are so many barriers for our kids in these neighborhoods to get to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum that we’re not going to just stay inside our four walls anymore,” said Maggie Lancaster, the museum’s CEO. ‘We’re going to come to you and provide this wonderful open-ended play where you are.’

‘There are so many barriers for our kids in these neighborhoods to get to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum that we’re not going to just stay inside our four walls anymore,” said Maggie Lancaster, the museum’s CEO. ‘We’re going to come to you and provide this wonderful open-ended play where you are.’

The children at each of the four sites eat breakfast and brush their teeth each morning and get lunch before they go home. In between, they enjoy about an hour-and-a-half of indoor exploration – building things out of magnetic tiles, for example, or making bead necklaces or figuring out how the sewing machine works. They also get about an hour of outdoor exploration.

In other words, they learn through play – even if they don’t realize that they’re learning.

“When they play with bubbles, when they play with Legos, when they play with slime, that open-ended play is a critical part of brain development,” said Maggie Lancaster, CEO of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. “That’s where we come in. If you go into our museum you’ll never see signs. There’s no way that we’re ever going to tell anybody how to play with something or where to go or what to do. It has to be child-led. GRPS has provided that opportunity in this summer program as well.”

PPTK is a free program that began two summers ago with 25 children and now involves 205 children at four GRPS schools – Buchanan, Kent Hills, Martin Luther King and Sibley. Partners plan to expand the program even more in 2020.

Grand Rapids Children's Museum PPTKMany families can’t afford preschool, so PPTK fills the gap by exposing them to play-based learning in a structured environment with a high adult-to-child ratio. Having a safe space with the opportunity for open-ended play helps the children build confidence and a sense of autonomy, said Lauren Greer, director of education for the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

“The best parts are the tiny stories that come out of each day, where maybe one child who isn’t very verbal one day had a lot to stay about something, or some child has a breakthrough and discovers that they love painting and they paint all day,” Greer said.

“That’s how you know this is really valuable. The space that we’re providing these children for their social and emotional growth is most important.”

The growth of the program alone is evidence that parents find value in PPTK. But the program also is proving to be successful at preparing kids for kindergarten. By the end of the summer, 90 percent of parents feel that their children are ready for school, said Yazeed Moore, program officer with the Kellogg Foundation.

Plus, each child in PPTK gets a free Grand Rapids Children’s Museum membership for a year so they can experience even more open-ended play.

The bottom line is that through play, more children are having fun and getting ready to hit the ground running on their first day of kindergarten – which is critical to their chances of long-term academic success.

“Kindergarten readiness is so critical,” said Kate Lara, GRPS director of early childhood. “To be able to learn the academic skills of kindergarten, you need to have those social skills as your basis first. Right now (through PPTK), they’re learning how school works. GRCM PPTKThey’re learning that it’s a safe space. They’re learning that there’s expectations and that they can follow those expectations. They’re learning what a classroom is, how to function in school and how to function with their peers.

“We’re going to have 205 kids who are much more ready for kindergarten than they sure would have been without this program.”

Project 1 by ArtPrize: A complete guide on what to know before the public art exhibit debuts

Project 1 logo

As the artistic director for ArtPrize, Kevin Buist didn’t know what to expect 10 years ago when the public art exhibition with the world’s largest financial prize debuted in Grand Rapids.

Buist is in similar unknown territory this fall with the launch of Project 1 by ArtPrize.

The organization’s new vision of an interactive art exhibition is carefully curated with five intentionally selected artists who will launch the concept with their work at three sites in and near the city’s downtown.

“Project 1 flips ArtPrize on its head,” Buist said recently. “We’re taking our resources and investing them in a smaller number of commissioned pieces with no competition. ArtPrize was very experimental, and it became, and will continue to be, a great success.

“For Project 1, we had to be willing to make a shift to breathe new life into the community and ask new questions. The artists are crafting massive public and interactive pieces that couldn’t exist in a competition format. It’s an exciting step in continuing to make Grand Rapids the pre-eminent location for remarkable art in the fall.”

And Buist has no doubt that will be the case. The experience will be different, but it will be just as memorable for visitors, he believes.

“These are going to be big, beautiful projects that people will want to explore. They’ll want to photograph them,” Buist said. “This is serious art that has a ‘Gee, Whiz,’ factor. There’s still going to be a huge art exhibit, and I think people will understand and appreciate the change after they witness it.”

The evolution to a biennial structure, ArtPrize will return in 2020, also allowed the ArtPrize team to deepen the significance of art by creating a theme that serves as an inspiration for the pieces while also examining critical issues. Project 1 selected “Crossed Lines” to look at how boundaries, both visible and invisible, affect a sense of belonging that can unite or divide the city.

“Art can deal with difficult topics and reveal histories that are uncomfortable or contemporary practices that may not be widely known,” Buist said. “This is not prescriptive or didactic. We’re not looking for a particular outcome. Art is open to interpretation, and ultimately, we hope to expand people’s views about life and empower them to think critically.”

When is Project 1 being held?

The first Project 1 will run from Sept. 7 to Oct. 27, a much longer event than ArtPrize, which typically lasts about two weeks. Project 1 will still be a self-guided exploration, but there will be more event-based performances and programming around artists’ installations. The plan is to kickoff the opening weekend with a burst of activity at each site and then highlight one particular location per weekend in a rotation.

Where will the art be located?

There are three primary sites:

  • Downtown Grand Rapids, which will feature a walkable experience with installations by four of the five commissioned artists. Exact locations of the art will be revealed shortly before the opening of Project 1.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Southeast Grand Rapids, where one artist will locate a piece that visitors can walk and climb on, as well as venture inside. The piece will also be a stage for local music, dance and spoken word. Another artist will use the park’s community lodge as a centerpiece.
  • Tanglefoot is a former flypaper manufacturing campus that is now home to urban artist studios, on the city’s near Southwest side. Here artists will build spaces for use by other artists and encourage audiences and performers to occupy a courtyard space at 314 Straight St. SW.

 

The artists and their Project 1 plans:

Amanda BrowderAmanda Browder: Browder creates large-scale, vibrant fabric installations and transforms building exteriors into multi-colored sculptures. The largest and most ambitious section of Kaleidoscopic will be draped over the exterior of a community center building in Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Southeast Grand Rapids. Browder will also wrap four skywalks which link buildings in the heart of downtown. The final section will cover the facade of a building at the Tanglefoot site on the southwest side of the city.

Heather Hart

Heather Hart: Hart creates submerged rooftops, complete with shingles and dormer windows, that look like they were dropped from the sky. The rooftops refer to home, stability or shelter. Hart speaks about the rooftops as thresholds between public and private space. Combined with family and oral histories, and activated by performance, her work explores the power these thresholds have in our lives. Hart will create The Oracle of the Soulmates — twin rooftop sculptures, one in the center of Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, the other on the lawn in MLK Park. Climb on the rooftops and venture inside the attics.

 

O Jeyifous

Olalekan Jeyifous: Jeyifous’ work in public art and installation explores the past and potential futures of urban environments. He will create The Boom and the Bust — a sculpture referencing the historic and contemporary challenges of housing discrimination and the inequities of urban life. This abstracted multi-story building form will rise 25-feet from the ground at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The sculpture arises from the artist’s research into the recent history of housing in Grand Rapids. By combining references to skyscrapers and single-family houses, it juxtaposes massive downtown development alongside foreclosure and displacement.

Amenta Lott

Paul Amenta and Ted Lott: Amenta and Lott, known for their history of wide-ranging collaborative artistic productions with SiTE:LAB, will present Critical Infrastructure — a site-specific architectural intervention at the landmarkTanglefoot Building. In collaboration with DisArt, an arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a disabled culture, the intervention will create an environment that addresses issues of accessibility in both form and function. The project will reimagine the site by temporarily transforming a private space into a fully accessible public space, through a series of ramps and landings which welcome visitors and a wide variety of performances and interventions by other artists.

Lozano Hemmer

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Lozano-Hemmer develops interactive installations that live at the intersection of architecture and performance art. He will create a new site-specific installation called Voice Bridge. Along the handrails of Grand Rapids’ iconic Blue Bridge — a pedestrian bridge which connects the East and West sides ofdowntown over the Grand River — you’ll find speakers and 400 lights that shine on the footpath of the bridge. You’ll control the intensity of each light by speaking into the intercoms at each end of the bridge and recording a message. Once recorded, your message will play back as a loop — jumping from speaker to speaker across the bridge as more messages are recorded.

 

What is the expectation?

Project 1 leaders believe the installation sites will have contrasting experiences, ephemeral but enduring. Visiting while the location is activated with planned performances will be different than when guests return and challenge themselves to see the art in another light.

“There will be moments that if you miss them, you’ll miss them and the interactivity can’t be recreated,” Buist said. “We think that will draw audiences and excite and inspire the visitors to gather together. And then people will want to go and get another unique look at the installations.

“People will be surprised and challenged and engaged, but, yeah, it’s a bit of an unknown right now. That’s a fine place for us to be in because we want to see the reaction to something that, again, is totally new.”

Learn more about Project 1 by visiting the art exhibition’s website.

The HAP Crim Festival of Races: ‘It’s a celebration’ that will change the way you look at Flint

As the race director for the Crim Festival of Races, Andy Younger witnesses the excitement of runners crossing the finish line and the incredible spirit of the community supporters, but every year there are moments that provide waves of satisfaction that have little to do with running.

“Without fail, every year, I hear people say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that Flint was this nice,’” Younger said. “And that’s what the Crim is really about. It’s not just a race, it’s a celebration that shows off the best of Flint and changes the way people look at our city.

“Flint is roaring back and people may not realize all of the positive things that are happening downtown. Restaurants are thriving and new ones are opening all the time. Businesses are succeeding, and we’re growing by leaps and bounds. It’s completely different from what people picture.”

The 43rd annual Crim races and surrounding community events are set to highlight Flint on Aug. 23-24. In addition to the 10-mile, 5-mile and 5K races on Saturday, Aug. 24, the city will host the Michigan Mile and a free “Rock the Block Crimstock,” concert on the evening of Aug. 23. The post-race celebration will feature more live music and a festive atmosphere.

Each year the Crim welcomes up to 15,000 runners and as many as 50,000 spectators. It is among the five largest 10-mile races in the U.S. and attracts many of the country’s top runners, including an appearance by Parker Stinson this year. Stinson holds the American record in the 25K, and it’s possible he’ll challenge the 1983 U.S. 10-mile record held by Michigan native Greg Meyer.

The 10-mile race began in August 1977 by Michigan House Speaker Bobby Crim, and the ensuing years have seen it develop into an institution in Michigan running circles. The Crim Fitness Foundation, which organizes race day, focuses its year-round efforts on improving the community’s health and quality of life.

“The entire weekend totally transforms downtown,” Younger said. “There are just people everywhere and you can feel the energy of the city and the shared experience that people are feeding off.”

The race courses wind through Flint’s downtown, with the signature 10-mile event taking runners through the scenic University of Michigan-Flint campus and toward Kettering University, one of the best engineering schools in the country. Each university is involved in the race and in a deep commitment to the community, Younger said.

Participants will then head through the Mott Park neighborhood, a region of the city marked by green space and public parks, before hitting the storied “Bradley Hills,” Flint’s version of the Boston Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill.

“The Bradley Hills are a nice feature that make the Crim challenging for runners of all abilities,” Younger said. “It’s kind of that midway point, and once you’re done, you know you’re on your way in to the finish.”

Next comes the city’s southwest side and a visit to the Woodcroft Estates subdivision, where historic homes feature a look at Flint’s past in the structures that date to the 1920s. The neighborhood, Younger said, generally hosts the greatest concentration of race support outside of downtown.

“It’s legendary what they do out there for the runners and there’s never a dull moment,” Younger said. “There are crowds of people and bands and ‘unofficial aid stations’ handing out all sorts of refreshments to keep people going. There are a lot of good distractions in Woodcroft, and the residents really get into it.”

The final mile of the Crim leads runners through the American Mile, where veterans, active military and their supporters cheer and distribute hand-held flags to participants. It’s a show of national pride and spirit, and a way for people to give back to each other, Younger said.

“It’s that final extra burst of energy, and it’s cool,” he said. “It gives runners a chance to show their appreciation to the armed forces, and it’s a fun thing for them to do for the community.”

Visit the Crim website to learn more and register for your next race.

 

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