Bob Woodrick, West Michigan leader in diversity education, dies

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A man who dedicated much of his life in West Michigan to combating what he called “the disease of racism” has died.

Bob Woodrick died Friday, Oct. 2 at the age of 88, according to a news release from Grand Rapids Community College. He leaves behind a legacy of promoting community conversations and education surrounding the topic of racism, the release states.

GRCC’s Diversity Learning Center, founded in 2006, was renamed the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion in 2016 to celebrate the couple’s work both on and off campus.

As a professional, Woodrick began his career in the family business, D&W Food Centers in Grand Rapids, and worked there his entire life, leaving only for college and the military, the release states.

Woodrick, according to a 1993 Grand Rapids Press story, started working for his father at the age of 14 — just three years after the first D&W was opened in 1943 at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Chicago Drive SW in Grandville.

Over the course of his career, he served as president and CEO, as well as chairman of the board.

“Bob Woodrick understood West Michigan cannot not truly be successful until everyone has an opportunity to thrive,” GRCC President Bill Pink said in a statement.

“For decades, he opened eyes, changed minds and challenged people to take a look at themselves and their communities,” Pink said in the statement. “The world we are living in today shows us we have more work to do. Bob’s leadership helped ensure GRCC is a place where that work can and will continue.”

Through the Woodrick Center, GRCC and surrounding communities are provided with the opportunity to experience cultural competence by way of community partnerships, academic colloquium, youth conferences, student engagement initiatives and programming that advances responsive social justice.

“I believe that racism is real, and that it is wrong — and that its presence with us has not diminished,” Woodrick wrote in a 1996 essay in The Grand Rapids Press. “Furthermore, I believe our denial plays a significant role in masking racism; only when we acknowledge our denial can the healing of racism begin.”

Woodrick’s advocacy led to the Institutes for Healing Racism, now a partnership between GRCC’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. The Woodricks also collaborated with Aquinas College to establish the Woodrick Institute for the Study of Racism and Diversity.

“GRCC has always been dedicated to helping students be everything they are capable of becoming. And learning to appreciate and understand the role that diversity plays in that process can not be underestimated,” Woodrick said at the GRCC center’s dedication.

“It’s an honor for Aleicia and I to be able to support GRCC and build upon the Diversity Learning Center’s decade of success. The future of our community depends upon us getting it right.”

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