After the 1960s race riots, Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church members made a bold decision. They converted nearby Baxter Christian School into a safe haven where their neighbors white and black could come together as one. Some forty years later, Baxter Community Center continues to be “an island of hope” in the neighborhood with Grand Rapids’ highest crime rate.
Mizizi Maji, Swahili for “root water,” is Baxter’s mentoring program that offers children ages eight to 18 academic support with one adult tutor for each student. As the participants’ grades go up, so does their self-esteem and their hope for becoming “healthy, responsible citizens.”
“May God bless you for the kindness,” Calvon Owens wrote Peter Wege after the trip. “You have helped me be open-minded about many things.” In his thank-you letter, Tony Taylor wrote that the trip “gave me an idea of what I would like to do with my life and this is see the world for myself and be a living testament of God’s will.”
Shapell Gillon told Mr. Wege that she’d learned South Africa has 11 different languages, and they drive on the left side of the road. “Did you know,” Nyah McKinney wrote to Peter Wege, “they burn grass to make it grow back faster in the summer?”
Raqhelle Millbrooks told Peter Wege that TV was wrong about all Africans “being starved with flies on their faces.” Instead she saw the people as “singing or laughing no matter what place they are in.”
Baxter’s leader Sharon LaChappelle called the trip for these young people at such susceptible ages “a strong counter to all the negative things that seek to pull them down.” What they took home was so positive, Sharon wrote, “it was as if “the whole family went!”