2000-07-10 Grand Rapids Press "I'm Hoping Things Change"

I'm Hoping Things Change
Work begins Tuesday on summit to battle racism

Grand Rapids Press

Four years ago, a flaming cross was left in the Rev. Ron James' yard -- something the Ferrysburg resident wasn't shocked by.

"I experience (racism) every single day," said James, who is black. "To have (a cross) burn in the yard was really to notify everyone else it was happening."

James, who founded the multi-ethnic congregation Grand Haven Outreach in 1990, said marry in the Grand Haven area and. beyond don't understand the differences among ethnic groups and exclude them from the community.

"Racism is still active and alive in Grand Haven and in the country," James said.

But he has seen acceptance grow in the community since moving here 13 years ago.

"The community needs to understand there's outstanding people in all ethnic groups, not just one ... I'm hoping things

"l'm hoping the Summit on Racism will make some changes."

In February, the community will meet to combat racism at the first Ottawa Area Summit on Racism.

"The goal is, that every single person who leaves that summit has an opportunity to work on an action step to dismantle
racism." said Gail Harrison, summit organizer and executive director of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance based in Grand Haven.

"This is not a conference to learn. lt's a conference for action steps."

The summit is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Hope College in Holland.

"We're bringing all sectors of the community, together," Harrison said. "By doing this as a community initiative, we're going to have a better opportunity to make an impact."

Goal: Destroy discrimination while promoting diversity
Grand Rapids Press

Ottawa County is changing, and, as Gail Harrison says: "It has a lot of work to do."

The Executive Director of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance in Grand Haven is referring to racism and discrimination that exists here and across the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last year that minority populations for Hispanics, blacks, Asians and American
Indians all rose between 1990 and 1998. The county's Hispanic population was up nearly 45 percent, Asians 62.4 percent, blacks 26.9 percent and American Indians 7.3 percent. Whites, which account overall for 92 percent of the county's population, also grew by 17 percent.

"The national demographics are changing and are changing dramatically in Ottawa County," Harrison said.

The Ottawa Area Summit on Racism is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Hope College to help dismantle racism and to promote diversity in the changing population.

It is sponsored by the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, Latin Americans United  For Progress, The African-American Support Group and the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony.

"(lt's about) changing the way a community looks at how it does things," said Ann Weller of the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony about the summit.

Participants from different backgrounds and races will break into focus groups, where they will identify problems and chose an initiative to work on throughout the year.

Focus groups include education, business, community groups, government, health care, the media and religion.

Groups will continue to meet year round and will share results at the next summit.

The summit is modeled after the Summit on Racism held in Grand Rapids the past two years.