2000-07-11 Grand Haven Tribune "Groups target racism in Ottawa County"


Groups target racism in Ottawa County
BY BRIAN J BOWE
Grand Haven Tribune

HOLLAND -

The task of eliminating racism in Ottawa County may be huge, but organizers hope a planning meeting at Hope College tonight will be one step toward that goal.

A planning meeting at 6:30 p.m. today in Phelps Hall at Hope College is aimed at gathering information before the Feb. 13 Ottawa Area Summit on Racism.

In addition to tonight's meeting, two "grass roots Ievel" meetings will be held -- Sept 28 at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Holland and Nov. 2 at Grand Haven Outreach Church. Also, a rneeting will be held Dec. 8 with local business leaders, pastors, and other community leaders.

"It's the beginning of a five-year plan," said Gail Harrison, executive director of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance in Grand Haven.

"This is an opportunity for people to come together to design strategies to eliminate the barriers to racial inclusion."

The summit is modeled after a similar event in Grand Rapids that has been occurring the past two years, Harrison said.

That program is being looked at as a model for programs nationwide.

"We are the first community that is trying to duplicate this model," she said.

Tonight's session at Hope is aimed at identifying obstacles for minorities in the local area, with suggestions for changes coming during the summit.

"The summit is hoping to encourage actions to increase access, and I think awareness and education are the preliminary steps, and the summit would be  action steps," said organizer Barbara Cote.

"We're hoping that, by the time we get to the summit, we'll have some vision statements about what a racism-free Ottawa County would look like," Harrison said.

She said people often tell her that they are upset about racism, but don't know what to do about it.

"I want everyone who comes to this summit to be able to walk out and say, 'Now I've got something to do,"' she said.

The summit on racism, Harrison said is modeled after a successful racism summit held in Grand Rapids the past two years.

At the Feb. 13 summit, Harrison said all sectors of the community will be brought together to identify steps that can be taken to dismantle barriers to acceptance of all groups.

"The goal by the end of the day will be to have one to two achievable steps," Harrison said.
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