History (including all current programs, activities, and accomplishments)
The Tolerance, Equality, and Awareness Movement (TEAM) was founded out of discriminatory experiences that the Founder, Chris Surfus, experienced at a business in West Michigan. Through experiencing LGBT bias and a friend experiencing racial bias at a business establishment in West Michigan, Surfus founded the organization that would develop into The Tolerance, Equality, and Awareness Movement. Surfus became the President of TEAM and organized a Board of Directors with other concerned individuals. The organization continued to develop while Surfus was finishing his Bachelor’s of Science of Business Administration at Cornerstone University.
After three months, TEAM launched the Speak Up! Panel Project Series, which started panels on racism, human trafficking, Native American history, and LGBT rights. While a number of panel projects were taking place, TEAM learned of Hudsonville Public Schools’ administration interfering with students starting a Gay-Straight Alliance. Students protested the district via Facebook pages, and TEAM took action. In his first major public appearance, President Surfus addressed the Hudsonville Public Schools Board of Education, only to receive less than satisfactory remarks from the Board. At that moment, President Surfus had a discussion with the superintendent of the district in the hallway. The media reporters were taking notes of our discussion, and interviewed Surfus.
The reporters published articles in the Grand Valley Advance and the Grand Rapids Press on TEAM’s work on LGBT bullying policies. Soon after, TEAM addressed Kentwood Public Schools in Kentwood, MI and Jenison Public Schools in Jenison, MI on LGBT bullying policies at Board of Education meetings. Shortly after, The Tolerance, Equality, and Awareness Movement filed Articles of Incorporation with the State of Michigan. Two weeks after filing Articles of Incorporation, TEAM did a Day of Silence photo shoot to raise awareness in silence of the LGBT community. TEAM outreached to the LGBT Network of West Michigan, which is a support center in Grand Rapids, MI for the LGBT community. TEAM developed a partnership with The LGBT Network of West Michigan, and held the GAYteway to Equality Discussion Panel. TEAM outreached to West Michigan Pride to assist with the 2010 West Michigan Pride festival, and it had a booth to outreach to nearly 6,000 people. TEAM participated in a Human Trafficking Outreach Day Event, hosted by a division of the Christian organization International Teams USA (iTeams) and Take Hold Church of Grand Rapids, MI. TEAM posted flyers on how to identify human trafficking victims around Grand Rapids, MI. TEAM held two events after Summer 2010, including the Human Rights Gathering (featured on Wood TV8) and a National Coming Out Day event to remember the recent gay teen suicides.
After National Coming Out Day 2010, TEAM started to become more involved in policy on the local government level. President Surfus delivered a speech in front of about 150 people or more at a Holland City Hall Human Relations Commission meeting, which was positively received. President Surfus was interviewed by Wood TV8 reporter Crystal Hilliard, along with support from West Michigan Pride Board members David Battjes and Michael Woerner, and Bill Freeman, Chaplain of the Interfaith Congregation in Holland, MI. TEAM continued to work on and support a policy in Holland, MI to add sexual orientation and gender identity to employment, housing, and public accommodations provisions of Holland’s anti-discrimination ordinance. TEAM’s President traveled to Holland, MI on two more occasions to address the Human Relations Commission on the policy, which was unanimously approved by the commission and ultimately failed in the City Council vote. President Surfus was interviewed by the Holland Sentinel and the article was published in their newspaper and on their website. TEAM is now supporting a petition by Holland Is Ready to Holland City Hall to approve the policy reform measure, which has nearly 700 signatures. TEAM was able to get the word out on the petition to attract 200 signatures overnight on June 7, 2011.
TEAM had a booth at the West Michigan Pride festival on June 18, 2011 to outreach to the LGBT community. TEAM was at the Network Neighborhood Bash at the LGBT Network of West Michigan on July 16, 2011 to further outreach its Diversity and Inclusion Program.
TEAM is best-known for organizing a candlelight vigil for the Grand Rapids, MI July 2011 mass murder victims. The vigil had over 1,000 attendees. The vigil had disaster relief services coordinated by TEAM and the American Red Cross. In addition, the City of Grand Rapids police dept., fire dept., and other professional groups supported our vigil. Our vigil was covered by the Grand Rapids Press, Wood TV8, WWMT 3, WZZM 13, WXMI 17, the Rapidian, and a variety of other media outlets.
In addition, TEAM is the group that organized a “peaceful human chain,” which is a peaceful counter-protest, against the Westboro Baptist Church in Grand Rapids, MI. The WBC never showed up to picket Betty Ford’s funeral, but TEAM showed up in large numbers to prevent WBC from getting close to the funeral services. Our counter-protest was recognized by several media outlets in West Michigan.
TEAM became a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization on September 7, 2011 to help support its growth as an organization. President Surfus, now a student in the Master’s of Healthcare Administration program at Grand Valley State University, has received the 2011 GVSU Peace and Justice Award scholarship and the 2011 West Shore AWARE LGBT Scholarship.
TEAM participated in Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College 2011 National Coming Out Day events to promote its Diversity and Inclusion Program. TEAM had a lecture on inclusion education on November 16, 2011. On November 17, 2011, TEAM was featured in the GRIID and GVSU LGBT Resource Center collaboration “The Grand Rapids LGBT History History Project” and had a booth at the screening event at the GVSU Pew Campus. On December 10, 2011, TEAM held its first fundraiser event in collaboration with The Pyramid Scheme, a thriving local music venue, and attracted nearly 200 people to the highly praised event.
In January and February 2012, TEAM underwent a strategic planning process to position itself effectively. In March 2012, TEAM will be officially recognized by the City of Grand Rapids as a nonprofit organization in the qualification of Charitable Gaming. Furthermore, TEAM is continuing its advocacy work on nondiscrimination ordinances in the West Michigan area.
Moving Forward: TEAM is in the process of fundraising and grant writing to support larger operations for the community in its mission on a 21st century human rights agenda.