Credit: Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.
Oral history, in African culture, was performed by the griots or storytellers. They kept the history and traditions of the family, tribe and nation, but was generally considered a masculine job. When Africans were brought to the Americas, that duty shifted to our womenfolk. In recent times that person was a grandmother, granny, nana, grandma or GRAAMA. Our acronym describes much about our mission: collecting and retelling the rich, colorful stories which composes the historic African American tapestry of living in Grand Rapids.
Through funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, a $25,000 grant from the Michigan Humanities Council in 2014 allowed GRAAMA to begin Grandmas' Voices. This project initiated the recording of oral histories from older African Americans in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. These black diamonds were just the start of the vision behind GRAAMA. As December came to a close in 2016, in collaboration with Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., GRAAMA opened its doors at its current site. The intimate, 2,100 square foot setting is only a temporary measure, as GRAAMA is currently in the planning stages for a new 13,000+ square foot contemporary museum in Grand Rapids' downtown district.
GRAAMA's logo is derived from one of the many Adinkra symbols originating from modern-day Ghana. The first collected piece of Adinkra cloth was recorded in 1817, meaning that the symbols existed as early as the 1800s, and possibly prior to that. The intricate symbols represent concepts or proverbs, as well as serving as decorative artwork on fabrics and pottery. This specific symbol's official name is nea onnim no sua a, ohu meaning, "he who does not know can know from learning."
Credit: Brian Kelly, Grand Rapids Business Journal
A native of Delaware, Maryland, George A. Bayard III completed De La Warr High School to pursue a Bachelor’s in Art and Education at the former University of Delaware. This lead to working within the Wilmington Public School system prior to becoming the regional manager for one of Philadelphia’s largest art and picture frame franchises. Moving to Michigan in 1988, George established the award-winning Bayard Gallery of Fine African American Art & Books, West Michigan’s largest gallery devoted to artists of color – 2018 marking its 30th year in business.
Between his business endeavors and community activism including a seat on the boards of the Arts Mid-West, Public Museum of West Michigan Collections, Grand Rapids Arts Advisory Board, Grand Rapids Symphony Celebration of Soul, Grand Valley State University’s Kutsche Office Advisory Council, Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum, National Conference of Artists, and West Michigan Genealogical Society, George began to envision a museum in Grand Rapids espousing the historical contributions and memorabilia particularly from local African Americans.
George officially opened the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, better known as GRAAMA, in December, 2015. Since its inauguration the museum has been well-received by both citizens and the arts community being recognized as an integral addition to the cultural offerings within Grand Rapids. As its executive director, George has personally overseen the many galleries and exhibits already hosted by the museum garnering excellent reviews as well as receiving ArtPrize's 10th Anniversary Juried Award for best Art Venue.
Besides managing GRAAMA, George is a certified appraiser, professional picture framer, expert in 20th century African American art, collects Black memorabilia and lectures locally with his Underground Railroad show exhibit. Personal interests include writing for his blog on rare collectibles to articles for the local newspapers, filmmaking, visual arts, attending 1st Assembly of God, and a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan. George states that highlights of his life include his wife, Deborah, and three children; receiving the Malinda P Sapp Legacy and Giants Awards; and the collective effort to erect the Rosa Parks statue only several blocks east from GRAAMA.