Work begins Tuesday on summit to battle racism
BY MELISSA BURDEN
Four years ago, a flaming cross was left in Ferrsburg resident Ron James' yard, something that didn't shock him, he said.
"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 in 1990 founded Grand Haven Outreach Mission, 17 2. Second, said many in the Grand Haven area and in the United States don't understand the differences among ethnic groups and exclude them from the community.
Two men were convicted on charges of ethnic intimidation for burning a cross outside James' home at 17643 North Shore Road, Ferrysburg. They were sentences to a year in jail and community service.
"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 change."
"I'm hoping the Summit on Racism will make some changes."
In February, Ottawa County communities 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. It'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 and impact."
The summit will feature keynote addresses by Juan Andrade, president of the Chicago-based United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, and by Greg Williams, College of Law dean at The Ohio State University, who is author of "Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black."
Rachelle Hood-Phillips, chief diversity officer for Advantica Resturant Group, Inc, a parent company of Denny's, is scheduled to speak at the summit's leadership conference in December.
Denny's was charged with discrimination in 1992 and paid more than $50 million to settle two class-action lawsuits filed by black customers who said they weren't served. Since the lawsuits, all Advantica employees have completed diversity training and Fortune Magazine ranks it is the No. 1 U.S. company for minorities.
After two summits in Grand Rapids, organizers there have seen progress in its six focus areas.
The religion committee organized a conference with youth and adult church leaders to bring anti-racist materials to congregations, said David May, coordinator of the Racial Justice Institute and pastor at the Mt. Moriah Baptist Worship Center in Grand Rapids.
May said the last summit in Grand Rapids attracted 700 people, who tackled higher education racism issues and the problem of business retaining minority employees.
"Racism just doesn't affect persons of color, but Caucasians," he said.
"It devastates both cultures. It robs both cultures of hte potential richness of each other."
Holland resident David Douglas sees the February 2001 summit as a step forward for Ottawa County.
He has heard people in Holland refer to biracial kids as zebras and has heard stories of people talking about dressing as the Ku Flux Klan members for Halloween.
"(The summit's) done world of difference in Grand Rapids," said Douglas, a member of the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony. "Private and educational sectors have really started serious training programs to make people aware of the history of racism and what's going on now."
Douglas, and African American, has experienced subtle racism with his 7-year-old daughter.
"I frequently get strange looks when I am alone with my older daughter. She's blonde and very fair skinned," Douglas said. "It's a natural human tendency to want to feel accepted and belong. And sometimes I don't feel accepted."