GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Advocates for change in West Michigan held a public forum with lawmakers and city leaders Saturday.

Together West Michigan hosted the action assembly from 10 a.m. until noon at Trinity Reformed Church. About 300 people attended the event.

“It’s great to see the energy and people excited about creating change in a positive way for our community,” said Rev. Ricardo Tavarez, senior pastor of En Vivo Church.

For the last nine months, members of the organization spoke with about 1,300 people in the community about issues they want addressed. The top concerns were housing, mental health, policing, affordable child care and language access for immigrants.

People affected by those issues spoke in front of the crowd to share their personal stories.

State leaders, including Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, and Rep. Carol Glanville, D-Walker, attended the forum. They both committed to support Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal to give scholarships to students entering the mental health field.

Michigan Deputy Secretary of State Aghogho Edevbie stood with members of the Immigrant and Refugee Well Being Team.

Sebastian Kaposhoa, who speaks Swahili, spoke about he how rode his bike from his home to his job at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport because he failed his driver’s test. He attributes that to misunderstanding the instructor’s directions.

“I thought the instructor told me to go through a yellow,” Kaposho said. “We know how to drive and can pass the test. We can engage better in our community if we have the language support to do it.”

On behalf of the state, Edevbie committed to translating the written driving test to Swahili and creating a phone service so people who speak Swalihi can call and have someone translate the experience.

Edevbie said this is expected to launch next month.

Members of the Hispanic community also spoke about relations with police and how they are fearful to speak up about issues that impact them.

“This has developed over the years. It can be a matter of life or death because of fear of reporting crimes of the way police treat people,” Candido Pedraza said.

The Immigrant and Refugee Well Being team met with Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom last month. He committed to working with Spanish-speaking residents and other chiefs of police to improve relations with all community groups.

“We need understanding and compassion,” another speaker said.

The organization also addressed the childcare crisis and encouraging residents to support an increase to the Ready by Five millage so it can be put on the November 2024 ballot.

Organizers say the event was the first of many to build more energy and momentum to solve these issues.

“We have power in numbers. Individually it might be difficult for us to put pressure on the systems that we need to see changed,” Tavarez said. “When we all come together to work to support one another, to hear eachother’s stories and put pressures in the right places we are a force to be reckoned with.”

If you would like learn more about the teams, join or sign up for training visit