Mariano Avila

Inclusion Reporter

Mariano Avila is WGVU's inclusion reporter. He has made a career of bringing voices from the margins to those who need to hear them. Over the course of his career, Mariano has written for major papers in English and Spanish, published in magazines, worked in broadcast, and produced short films, commercials, and nonprofit campaigns. He also briefly served at a foreign consulate, organized for international human rights efforts and has done considerable work connecting marginalized people to religious, educational, and nonprofit institutions through the power of story.
Mariano was born in Mexico City, Mexico, where he learned the value of civic engagement and public discourse. His life and work have taken him from refugee camps in Palestine to garbage-dump communities in Egypt, Guatemala, and Mexico. He has met presidents and dignitaries from several countries, as well several international celebrities.
Mariano is a graduate of Calvin College and has an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson.

Ahmad Khodor

Ahmad Khodor, a Grand Rapids man born and raised in Syria, says he blames President Bashar Al Assad and the indifference of Western countries for the recent gas bombing of civilians that left between 60-100 people dead.

Khodor has been living in Michigan for over 30 years. He has graduate degrees from University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University and finally settled here in Grand Rapids. Still living in the country he called home until age 33, Khodor says has extended family, as well as friends living in Syria.

Disart / Disart

Jill Vyn, managing director DiArt has been employing a range of strategies to change perceptions around disability through art that centers disability or artists with disabilities

“We  do that, as an organization, through curated experiences and strategic partnerships in our community. Just really focused on trying to create a more welcoming and inclusive community as a whole.”

One of their staple programs is the “Disability Arts Now Symposium,” which will happen this Thursday through Saturday, April 6-8 at the Art Prize Hub on Sheldon.

Mariano Avila / WGVU

The Sikh community is often a mistaken target of Islamophobia, which is why Simran Jeet Singh, a high-profile member of the Sikh community in the United States, came to West Michigan to discuss what he calls a new racial group in post-911 America. 

“Part of my religious identity as a Sikh is a turban, uncut hair, so I have a beard. And so for my entire life, growing up, people have perceived me to be Muslim, based on their stereotypes of what a Muslim looks like.”

Mariano Avila / WGVU

Undocumented Michigan residents have been receiving scam calls from people posing as Immigration officials demanding money. 

[Ring, ring]

It sounds legit:

“You’ve reached the Superior Court of California County of Riverside...”

It’s unclear how, but the callers find numbers for undocumented immigrants and tell them that if they don’t pay $400 plus  for ESL classes, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, or ICE, will deport them. Which is what happened to one undocumented Michigander who immediately called his lawyer, Pamela Davies.

Piper Kerman

Orange is the New Black author, Piper Kerman will Keynote in Grand Rapids Tuesday Night at Fountain Street Church.

Piper Kerman says she wants to call attention to issues in the criminal justice system—especially those affecting girls and women.

“There’s three really important things that drive women’s involvement in crime or in potentially their incarceration. And that is substance abuse, a high incidence of mental illness or mental heath problems and an incredibly high incidence of physical victimization.”

Mariano Avila / WGVU

Pauline McGregor says she started a walking group and a community garden in the Madison Square neighborhood, but went to the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit this year to start something else.

“We don’t have a neighborhood association anymore and I’d really like to see that start again. So, maybe I can find the right person to talk with to figure out how we can get that going again.”

It’s that level of engagement that inspired Mayor Rosalynn  Bliss to start the summit three years ago. 

Tommy Allen

Dozens gathered on the banks of the Grand River Wednesday in support of Standing Rock water protectors at a turning point of the standoff.  Mariano Avila brings us the story.

They stand in silence as elders perform a water ceremony—offering prayers and tobacco on the West bank of the Grand River. The gathering stands in solidarity with Oceti Sakowin, the Standing Rock camp slated for evacuation on 2/22 at 2:00 p.m. The prayers aren’t just for the water protectors though.

Mariano Avila / WGVU

About 300 people held a demonstration in Downtown Grand Rapids yesterday to protest President Donald Trump and his policies.

People showed up at 4:00 p.m. Monday for the "Not-my-president’s-day demonstration," called by the Facebook group Indivisible West Michigan. By 4:30, about 150 people brake into civil right’s songs.

The chants begin by invoking the right to protest.

[Call: “Tell me what democracy looks like”]

[Response: “This is what democracy looks like]

Then come chants decrying the administration’s immigration and refugee policies.

Mariano Avila / WGVU

If your favorite taco joint is closed today or half of your Hispanic employees don’t show up to work, it’s because they’re on a national strike against mass deportations and the current administration’s immigration policy. I talked to two local women. First, is Idalia Tinoco, she owns a chicken joint off 28th Street called “La Casa del Pollo Loco,” which today is closed.

[Tinoco in Spanish]  “The purpose is to make clear all that we contribute to this country.”

Idalia and her staff will all stay home for the day, but she says it’s more involved than just time off.

Layth Alhaidary / WGVU

As the battle between the White House and federal courts continue over the executive order banning entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, we decided to look at the way that this is affecting people in West Michigan. 

MA: Can you tell me why you left Iraq?

[Martin: Arabic]

[BS: translator] I left Iraq because the war was getting worse and our family was attacked and we had to leave to another country for safety, for ourselves and our family.