Ashley E. Nickels and Dani Vilella have joined forces to compile articles, poetry, and personal narratives about and by Grand Rapids, Michigan’s grassroots activists.


While Grand Rapids is known for large-scale events like ArtPrize; major businesses like Meijer, Steelcase, and Amway and the philanthropic and political contributions of its wealthiest residents, there are hundreds — if not thousands — of grassroots activists working day-in and day-out to make Grand Rapids what it is and making it what it can be. This project seeks to raise the voices of those individuals and grassroots groups.

Grand Rapids Grassroots: An Anthology is the next book in Belt Publishing’s series of city-based anthologies:

“Each book is edited by a native or resident of that city, who asks the community to send in its stories, be they of revitalization, loss, family, history or hope — and be they written by professional authors, college students, or public servants. The essays, photographs, and poems that comprise the final product are impassioned, emotional, visceral tales of individual lives lived in places that have been too often overlooked, stereotyped and misrepresented elsewhere. The books resonate profoundly with anyone who has lived in or lives in the city, be it a young professional new to town or a retiree who moved away decades ago. So too do they fascinate those unfamiliar with a city, as the collective voices harmonize to provide an inside-out snapshot. Our books take you on tours led by natives.”

Belt Publishing is an independent, Cleveland-based publisher who has published anthologies “written by and for Rust Belt communities,” including Akron, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Flint, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown. Next up: Grand Rapids!

Thanks to support from more than 100 people including family, friends, and complete strangers, the book is set to go come out in November 2017. But first: we need submissions!


We seek submissions from artists and creatives; students and academics; leaders and volunteers; writers and journalists.

We are looking for submissions that cover the breadth and range of Grand Rapids’ grassroots community. We want to include a broad range of issues, formats, and experiences. Are you from Grand Rapids? Are you living there now? In what way have you been involved in or been influenced by the city’s activist community?

Submissions should be sent on or before March 31, 2017 at 11:59pm to All submissions must follow the following guidelines:

  • Submit as Word (.doc) attachment to the above email address
  • Put “Submission: YOUR NAME” in the subject line of the email
  • In the body of the email, please include your full name and contact information.
  • Only 1 submission per person
  • Collaborative or co-authored pieces are welcomed


We welcome a range of writing styles and formats. Here are some suggested formats:

  • Personal narratives
  • Academic-style essays
  • Poetry
  • Opinion Pieces
  • If you have ideas for another format, we are open to suggestions. Be creative!

Additionally, we are interested in covering the breadth and depth of issues in Grand Rapids:

  • Housing & Homelessness
  • Feminism
  • Youth
  • Faith Outreach
  • Hunger and Food Security
  • Domestic Violence
  • Civil Rights
  • Access to Services/Community Needs
  • Democracy and Civic Engagement
  • Community/Neighborhood Organizing
  • And more!

The following are some questions to get you started:

  • What does grassroots activism in Grand Rapids mean to you?
  • What does grassroots activism look like?
  • What are the structures that you have to navigate as an activist? (i.e. funding sources, community partners, infrastructure, etc.)
  • How does the Grand Rapids community and culture create opportunities or challenges for you work?
  • How do you decide how to do your work?
  • What are your priorities?
  • What is important to you, as an activist?

Keep up to date with the project’s progress at:

It is important to us that this anthology reflect the diversity of activism work being done in Grand Rapids and be a platform for voices and stories to be lifted and highlighted. PLEASE share this widely with your networks and activist friends and help us spread the word.

Please note: monetary contributions made to help us fund this project in no way influence acceptance of submissions for publication.


Dani Vilella is the Political & Advocacy Field Manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and is based in Grand Rapids, MI. She currently serves on the steering committee of the Fountain Street Church Choice Fund, is on the Board of the West Michigan Progressive Women’s Alliance, and is currently a graduate student at Grand Valley State University earning her Master’s degree in Non Profit & Public Administration.  She has previously served as the President of the Grand Rapids chapter of the National Organization for Women, and as the Action Vice President for MI NOW. She is a co-founder of Stop the War on Women, and organization dedicated to preventing anti-women legislation, and Service for Servers, a non-profit designed to encourage people in the service to give to progressive causes. She is a dedicated community organizer who is passionate about feminism, human rights and sexual justice.

Dani holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Women & Gender Studies from Grand Valley State University. She also holds a Master’s Certification in Non-Profit Leadership & Public Administration from GVSU.

Ashley Nickels is an assistant professor of political science at Kent State University in Ohio, where she teaches courses in public and nonprofit administration. She is an interdisciplinary scholar, whose work focuses on urban politics and policy, community based organizations, and local democracy. A self-described scholar-activist, Nickels began her career focused on feminist activism and organizing. She previously served as the Vice-President of the Michigan National Organization for Women and President of the local Grand Rapids chapter. She has been published in various academic journals and is co-editing two other books, one on feminist activism and the other on community development, with Routledge Press.

Banner photo credit: Steven Depolo