Story by Valentina Garcia, News Editor
Photo courtesy of The Saint
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss visited Aquinas College on March 18 as part of the HerStory Speaker Series during Women’s History Month.
“Women must be present at all spaces, all roles, all forms of leadership and governance and we are witnessing a time when women are truly claiming their space in that process. That notion of claiming space is really what inspires our HerStory program,” Mallory Miller, student engagement coordinator for the Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, said while introducing Bliss.
Bliss shared her journey to becoming the first female mayor of Grand Rapids — and the lessons she has learned while claiming that space — with Aquinas students and staff at the Donnelly Center.
Throughout her journey, the power of people and experiences manifested itself in different ways. It was a teacher who first talked to Bliss about attending college (she would go on to attend the University of South Alabama, and later Michigan State for graduate school). And it was women who first encouraged Bliss to run for office.
“Quite frankly, I didn’t decide to run on my own,” Bliss said.
Bliss shared that women either run for office because they are encouraged by others or because they get really angry about something. Bliss fit in the former; a group focused on getting more women elected to office approached her about running as a city commissioner in 2005. Bliss met them through the community work she was involved with. Bliss said no, but they insisted and were persuasive. She ultimately decided to run focusing her campaign on park funding. She won.
“Honestly, I think they saw something in me that at the time I didn’t even see in myself,” Bliss said.
The encouragement she received taught her an important lesson. “There is incredible power in people. It’s people that change people’s lives,” Bliss said. She asked for those in attendance to help women see the qualities they bring to the table, and to help women in leadership be successful. It was encouragement from former Mayor George Heartwell that would lead Bliss to run for mayor.
“People come alongside of us, and they support us, and they encourage us to do something and they open up doors for us. And then we have to decide whether we walk through those doors or not,” Bliss said.
Bliss walked through that door. And she won.
Bliss shared advice to women in leadership positions that are surrounded by men: know what you’re getting into, identify allies in the room and stay true to yourself.
Her journey has had its challenges and obstacles, but Bliss has many things that keep her grounded.
“Pretty much everything she said was really empowering. Her story and her background, how she uses the things that she went through to further empower herself and not be bitter about it, I liked that about her story,” First-year student Mariah Niewoonder said.
The final HerStory event of the year will take place on April 8 at the Moose Cafe. HerStory is a collaboration between the Jane Hibbard Idema Women’s Studies Center and the Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.
About the Writer:
Valentina Garcia is a fourth-year student who loves sunny days, Jane Austen, and preferred tea to coffee until she started college.