1999-11-13 Grand Haven Tribune "Diversity alliance takes award for Calling All Colors"

Diversity alliance takes award for Calling All Colors
Grand Haven Tribune

The North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance has been working on building equality and celebrating diversity in this community for over three years.

Now they are receiving an award for instilling these same lessons in middle school students through hte annual Calling All Colors conference. The North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance has been nominated to receive the cty of Holland Human Relations Commission's Justice Award, which recognizes persons or programs that provide exemplary service in regards to equality in a community.

"We're thrilled," said Gail Harrison, executive director of the alliance.

The alliance has held four Calling All Colors conferences, which bring students from Muskegon and Ottawa county middle schools together to dialogue about racial harmony, experience activties from another culture and create an action plan to help their schools appreciate diversity.

"When we give kids the opportunity to hear each other's frustration and pain ... that moves it to a whole new level," said Harrison. "We aren't telling them what to do. We are saying 'what would you like to do in your school?'"

For the first time, this year, the conference was separated into two events. The first was held at Hope College this past fall where students created an action plan of ways to teach and appreciate diversity in their schools. The students will reutrn for the second part of the conference in May at Grand Valley State University where they will report what changes they made.

North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance board member Ortenchia Ruiz said that she thinks holding the fall conference at Hope College in Holland had a lot to do with the alliance receiving the Justice Award from that city.

"I like the connection there," she said, adding that she hopes they will be able to hold the fall conference there again next year.

As a board member for about two years, Ruiz said she has focused her efforts on helping with Calling All Colors and the alliance's migrant mentoring programs.

"It's a learned behavior to be a racist and discriminate against others. I think you need to nip it in the bud before it develops," Ruiz said. "How else do you nip it in the bud than to educate the kids?"

The Holland Human Relations Commission will present the alliance with their aware at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Holland City Hall.

But Calling All Colors is not the only way the alliance is working on creating racial harmony in the area. The alliance is made up of about 30 members who volunteer their time to work on migrant worker issues, diversity education for children and adults and enforcing laws against housing discrimination.

According to Harrison, the alliance has recently made a proposal to the Grand Haven Area Public Schools asking that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day be recognized in the schools. She added that next year they are hoping to recognize the day with a community-wide program held at the Performing Arts Center.

"It looks like the recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the schools is going to be a reality this year," Harrison said.

The alliance's latest project is organizing a summit on racism in Ottawa County. Harrison said that the entire community would be invited to the summit where they would listen to speakers on diversity and break into groups based on their occupation.

In the groups they would identify racial barriers in their field and brainstorm on how to reduce those barriers.

Harrison said that the summit will most likely be held at Hope College a year from this February.

"It's going to be a huge undertaking but also very exciting because we are talking about bring the whole community together," Harrison said.

Currently the alliance provides a mentoring program for the children of migrant workers, which matches a community volunteer with a migrant child. The mentor develops a relationship with that child and takes them to the museum, library, beach or YMCA.

"I think people underestimate how critical the migrant population is to our area and our economic stability," said Harrison.

The alliance also puts together welcoming packages for migrant families who are returning to the area after going south. They collect food, clothes, blankets and money at area churches for the welcoming packages.

"They (migrant families) come back sometimes needed more support to get started," said Harrison.

The alliance was also responsible for putting in a basketball court and shed to house sporting equipment for migrant children at a local camp. The alliance organized getting the court approved by the growers, applied for a grant and raised money for materials. Shape Corporation donated labor to pour to court.

Harrison said that the alliance also works for people who have been discriminated against, because of their race, while looking for a home in the area. They make referrals to Grand Rapids Fair Housing Center to enforce the housing laws.

Anyone who is interested in becoming part of this North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance or learning more about it, is welcome to attend their annual retreat at Christ Community Church in Spake Lake on Saturday, November 20th at 9:30am.

"At any level that people want to participate, we welcome their participation," she said.