40 Under 40: This class leads the charge for change

Change is never linear. But often there are recognizable guideposts along the way to indicate change is coming.

In its simplest form, change often is marked by a loosely defined path of outcry, debate, negotiation, experimentation and finally action.

Looking back on the past dozen or so classes of 40 Under 40 Business Leaders and comparing and contrasting membership makeup in those classes, an argument can be made that Grand Rapids has reached the milestone where real change can be made.

This year’s class is more diverse than any previous, which is good. But diversity alone does not affect change. A collection of like-minded individuals who are moving into positions of influence does, however, build a solid foundation from which change can emerge.

Information contained in the applications from this year’s 40 Under 40 indicates we are nearing — if not at — the point where real change will be accomplished. Grand Rapids for several years has espoused a desire to become a welcoming community for all. Various initiatives in numerous sectors are in place to facilitate that goal.

But let’s face it, policy rarely is as effective as personnel when it comes to change.

People, not plans, get things done.

It is especially gratifying to see young people taking this opportunity. Younger generations often are criticized (unfairly) for being “lazy” or unwilling/unable to “work hard.” That is not the case with this group.

A common theme among this year’s recipients is getting what they want by working for it. They also are more interested in mobilizing their peers than going it alone. There is a difference between crying for change and creating change.

These people have a passion for change.

The 40 profiles contained herein are testament to that desire.

For example, Brooke Oosterman, director of policy and communications at Housing Next, said her early career prompted her to take a wider view of the community in which she lives and works.

“Reflecting back on all of the moments, trials and decisions that have brought me here, I have realized that I have always prioritized continuously changing to create change. I have always gone after opportunities and made moves to align my work with my purpose,” she said. “Those moves have been risky, but my commitment to creating change has always driven me to learn more, grow more, give more. Without that consistent commitment to change, I wouldn’t be here in this moment serving our community in such a critical space.”

It’s amazing how many recipients reach back to their early careers or even their childhoods to see the path that’s required to formulate real change.

Doug Booth, COO of Health Net of West Michigan, chose to join the West Michigan Partnership for Children and the Grand Rapids LGBTQ+ Healthcare Consortium based in part on growing up in West Michigan.

“My biggest influence is the child that I once was. I grew up a closeted gay boy in West Michigan. Everything I do, I think back to then and ask if I would feel safe with me now?” he said. “I did not know any other gay people growing up and was surrounded by a community that spoke less than highly of the LGBTQ community. I was scared and unsure of what life had in store for me. I think back to then because I know there are still kids in our area that may feel the same way now that I did then. That’s unacceptable for me, so I will always try and help and stay visible for the LGBTQ kids in our communities.”

If Grand Rapids truly is to become a “welcoming community for all,” it will be the 40 people profiled in these pages and countless others like them who will lead that change.