Forty-five degrees and sunny, a perfect winter day. March 8th, 2023, marked the first ever International Women’s Day (IWD) march in the history of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This event was hosted by SowHope. “International Women’s Day is not very well known in the United States,” said Mary Dailey Brown, President & CEO of SowHope, “and we wanted to stand with the rest of the world and celebrate the achievements of women. We tried to make it a fun, unifying event for Grand Rapids.” IWD is celebrated as a global holiday, especially in developing nations. It is common practice for entire communities to celebrate in the streets with parades, dancing, food, and music. This is the atmosphere that SowHope wanted to joyfully recreate. The inaugural event attracted over 100 people to Rosa Parks Circle to take part in the festivities. Almost everyone wore bright purple SowHope-branded beanie hats to celebrate the occasion. Kicking off the event, Mary presented awards of achievement to two local women leaders for their incredible contributions to the West Michigan community. Grand Valley State University President (GVSU) Philomena Mantella was awarded for her cultural achievements, including becoming the first woman president of GVSU. Shelley Irwin was presented the social achievement award for her contributions to the public space, hosting interviews and presiding over local events for over 20 years.

Event Attendees getting cupcakes.

After the award ceremony, the main event began. The crowd, led by Mary, the award recipients, and SowHope Board Members, marched one mile around Grand Rapids, cheering and waving flags all along the way. Every quarter mile, “pump-up” stations were set up to keep the celebration going as music played and the crowd danced. Participants were greeted by smiling volunteers with cupcakes and hot cocoa upon completing the march. The event was well-received by the community, including the City of Grand Rapids Office of Special Events and Downtown Grand Rapids, INC., both of which were main sponsors of the event. “The public had nothing but good things to say about today,” said SowHope Administrative Director Aaron Hoxworth, “It was wonderful to see people from all over West Michigan come to celebrate the achievements of women and the work that SowHope is doing around the world.” Photos by Alex Comben.