GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a back alley on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, Victor Williams can remember practicing his dance moves with a buddy. He and that friend would split their time between the alley routines and perfecting their raps either in a basement or bedroom. He was pursuing a dream, as he call it, “the hard way.”

“As I was trying to get into the music industry as a teenager, I was bumping my head against all of these walls, trying to figure it out. And there was no where for me to go to learn,” Williams said. “It’s not like that in other cities. You’re in New York, you’re in LA or Chicago, you got access to places to go where people will teach you.”

Williams learned his way to some of the biggest stages in music. His group opening for stars like Run DMC, Public Enemy, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince or EPMD.

“My favorite show that I ever did, we opened up for a run DMC at the Hill Auditorium, November 12th, 1987. Right. That’s at the University of Michigan. That poster is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and it has my name on it,” Williams said with a wink.

Those days spent in the alleys and basements or sharing the big stage were 30 to 40 years ago. The dream too has changed. His focus and attention has shifted to a new nonprofit he and his partners started, Grand Rapids Media Initiative and Film Incubator.

“We are teaching classes, everything from intro to podcasting, to editing, film editing, screenwriting, programs like Final Cut. You know, just the gamut,” Williams said.

It’s not exactly a passion project for Williams and his business partner Rodney Brown, it’s more of a necessity project. While the two were working on filming a 90-minute documentary of the book “A City Within a City”, they discovered a glaring gap of diversity in the community members they could hire to help with the film.

“We set out on a very specific mission to hire an all colored crew, as much Black and brown as we could and a lot of women, and it’s tough. It’s tough to find,” Williams said. “We hear people talk about lack of diversity in Hollywood and you know, of course we grew up watching the films and, you know, Cleopatra was played by a woman from England. So we, we’ve seen these different discrepancies our whole life but we never until we actually got involved in industry, became a film company and started seeing, it’s like, wow, it even goes behind the scenes.”

The new nonprofit is working to change that. The two say that some local organizations they’ve asked about why there’s a lack of diversity in film and media have said because there’s a lack of qualified people. GRMIFI aims to be the pipeline to close that gap in the Grand Rapids community.

“People can’t be what they can’t see,” Brown said. “When you talk about the divide in Grand Rapids, just to be clear, we talk about the Forbes article of 2015, that talked about the Black community in Grand Rapids being second to last of any metropolitan area around the country. It doesn’t match the, it doesn’t match our community. It just doesn’t. Our community is better than that.”

GRMIFI is run at the Wealthy Street Theatre Annex Building. They’re offering two classes a week with the hopes of attracting new, interested talent and skilled teachers to grow all that they offer in film and media techniques and increasing to classes everyday.

“Our main objective is to allow community that have education in the area but as well as people who don’t have education, to provide them a place to learn and to escalate their skill level to the point where they can do really high level professional work,” Williams said.

Brown and Williams are looking for community support. Teachers, equipment or donations. They are trying to make the dreams of young minds, easier to think up, reach for and achieve. And they know this community is wealthy in diverse talent because history has always proved that, even if some of those stories (as they detail in their documentary) have gone untold.

“I just think that we as a community, broadly, should embrace these stories, should embrace this talent. And we think that we, with this film and the work that we’re doing with the Grand Rapids Media Initiative and Film Incubator are going to recognize that talent and that legacy of where we come from; grounded with the work that we’re doing now, and then allow for us to grow from here,” Brown said.

Their new space has two dance studios, a creative space, an area for a set, edit bays and a podcasting room. They’ll provide low-cast teaching of the lights, camera, action, and anything media related. All they’re asking for is the community to come with a dream.

“When people think about film, look at the credits on a film and you see all of the jobs at the end. It’s hundreds and hundreds of jobs. We’re trying to fill all of those jobs with Black and brown people. We want people in our community to learn how to do all of those jobs. It’s everything from being the director to the person that sweeps up at the end of the night,” Williams said. “There are certain requirements that come with all of them, how to do them properly for a film setting and all that. We want to teach our community.”

Learn more about Grand Rapids Media Initiative and Film Incubator, here.