1998-05-08 Grand Rapids Press "Conference promotes racial understanding"

Conference promotes racial understanding
Grand Rapids Press

The second "Calling All Colors gathers 165 students from 11 schools today.

Gail Harrison is proof that the individual can play a powerful role in combating social ills, such as racism.

Two years ago, Harrison of West Olive, served on the board of Child and Family Services. Concerned about race issues, she talked to Joyce Rapier, another board member.

"I asked Joyce, 'What can I do as a white person to help deal with racism?'," Harrison asked.

Rapier, who is black, encouraged her to befriend an Africa-American family who had recently moved to Grand Haven from Muskegon. She had heard they didn't feel welcome in the community. Harrison tried to contact the family only to discover they had left Grand Haven.

The incident motivated Harrison to visit churches and organizations in Grand Haven to see what they were doing in terms of the race issue. After participating in an 8-week training sponsored by Christ Community Church, Harrison involved 18 people of diverse backgrounds to come together to brainstorm on ways to actively combat racism.

"There are a lot of us who support diversity and we needed to become more visible," Harrison said.

The individual who came together are now known as The North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance. The group has evolved to 35 individual reflective of the Grand Haven population. There are African Americans, Hispanics, white mothers of biracial and adopted children, clergy, and other concerned citizens.

In order to get to know each other better, the group decided to have a retreat. As part of the activities, they viewed the video "Calling All Colors," which highlights the story of 8-year-old Anisa Knitz. Knitz, now internationally recognized, believed the race issue was also a children's issue and founded the first "Calling All Colors" conference.

The group decided to adopt the same initiative as their first project.

The conference, hosted by Grand Valley State University, allowed for over 100 children from seven elementary and middle schools in the county to come together for a day of learning about interacting with one another.

"If we're going to be successful at healing racism, we have to involved our youth," Harrison said.

The conference goals included providing an opportunity for participants to increase their awareness of different points of view, become aware of sterotyping and its effects, discuss feelings about race and race relations, and work closely with a diverse group of people.

Today the second local "Calling All Colors" conference will bring together 165 students from 11 schools. Ivy Goduka from Central Michigan University is the keynote speaker. Goduka, born in South Africa during Apartheid came to the United States in 1987 and has since earned a master's degree and doctorate.