When John Eligon wrote for the Northview High School newspaper, he dreamed of reporting on the Olympics while having fun interviewing classmates.
Local Grad Covers Race Issues for The New York Times
Northview Public Schools, MI — When John Eligon wrote for the Northview High School newspaper, he dreamed of reporting on the Olympics while having fun interviewing classmates. But as one of four black students in his graduating class of 2000, he also found greater Grand Rapids a pretty conservative place where it was hard to have a meaningful conversation about race.
When he returned to his hometown shortly before Christmas, Eligon came as a reporter for The New York Times, covering issues of race, gun violence and polarized politics. What he found was a city with a more vibrant urban culture and more political nuance than the one he remembered.
“It’s a rediscovery of a new Grand Rapids that I never knew,” Eligon said, sitting in The Bitter End, one of the many coffeehouses that have sprung up since he left. “It’s been pretty cool to talk to various stakeholders in the community.”
Eligon will share his insights with Times readers, in an upcoming story about how the nation’s post-election political divide looks from the vantage point of West Michigan. Spurred by President Donald Trump’s rally at DeVos Place just after midnight on Election Day, Eligon came back for the first time in 11 years to take the community’s political pulse. His reporting revealed a more complex picture than the stereotypical Dutch conservative heartland.
“It’s somewhat unique politically,” Eligon said. “The city itself is very Democratic, but the big money is very Republican. You have Republicans who are funding ArtPrize, which is more of a liberal type thing. You have Republicans funding developments that are bringing millennials, who tend to be more liberal.”
Despite culture clashes over issues like gay marriage, liberals and conservatives come together when it comes to investing in the city, he added: “Blue or red, people put green above that.”