Hope hosts fall version of Calling All Colors conference
BY KYM REINSTADLER
In each of the past three Mays, middle school students have gathered for a Calling All Colors conference at Grand Valley State University to brainstorm plans to promote racial unity at their school.
The kids were enthusiastic. Their ideas were creative. But a few weeks later school ended, and the kids found it difficult to carry the momentum over the long summer.
That's why the conference's sponsor, the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, will hold a fall version of the popular conference Tuesday at Hope College.
"By meeting in the fall, we're hoping to make this a real catalyst for change instead of just a one-day event," said Gail Harrison, executive director of NOEDA, and organization that promotes racial harmony though education, advocacy, support networks and community celebrations.
Calling All Colors - a program originally developed for third through eighth graders by the University of South Carolina - teaches children ways to bring down racial and ethnic barriers.
The conference provides opportunities to boost children's awareness of other points of view, become aware of seterotyping and its effects, discuss feelings about race and race relations, and work closely with a diverse group of people.
This year's conference will focus on issues surrounding privilege, plus showcase leadership skills.
The center of each conference's activities is writing action plans t form clubs or councils, have assemblies or workshops, or otherwise make progress in solving a particular race problem at their school.
Harrison said the alliance has been aware from the start that the spring conference undermined hopes for achieving more racial unity in the schools However, no facilities were available at GVSU until most of the college students went home for the summer.
Harrison said alliance members thought children gained something important by holding the conference in a higher education venue. For some students each year, attending Calling All Colors marked their first time on a a college campus.
Beyond that milestone, conference participants of many racial and ethnic backgrounds sent the message that college is a place for everyone.
That's when Ruben Ellis, a Hope College English teacher who was a member of the alliance, invited the group to schedule a fall conference at Hope.
Although Ellis left Hope last winter for a new position in Prescott, Arizona, Hope's Office of the Provost and Multicultural Life Office agreed to support the event.
Attending will be almost 200 students from 12 Ottawa County and Muskegon county middle schools.
They include: Holland's East and West Middle Schools, West Ottawa, Grand Haven Lakeshore and White Pines, Spring Lake, Muskegon Heights, Muskegon's Bunker, Steele and Reeths-Puffer, Fruitport and the Ottawa County Juvenile Justice Department's Courage program.
Assisting the alliance with the conference will be members of the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony in Holland.
In addition, NOEDA will assign Linda DuDuk, a GVSU undergraduate in social work, to work with Calling All Colors representatives from any school that request on-site help in implementing its action plan.
Next year, Harrison hopes to enlist a second intern from Hope.
Keynote speaker for Tuesday's conference will be Michael Hoa Viola-Vu, director of multicultural affairs at Davenport College.
International students at Hope will lead music, dance, arts and drama workshops demonstrating unique aspects of their culture.
Harrison said she gets calls regularly from public, private and charter school teachers who urge that Calling All Colors programs be expanded to include more schools and to lower and higher grades.
"This is an effective model," Harrison said. "It gives students an opportunity to design tools that can really affect change in their schools."