2000-09-25 Lakeshore Press Diversity Alliance says work remains

Diversity Alliance says work remains
Lakeshore Press

A fly in the soup may spoil one’s appetite to taste the rest of it.

One spoiled fish doesn’t make the whole bucket foul.

One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch.

These are saying a Vietnamese, a Cambodian and an American might use to describe the same sentiment: Don’t allow a negative experience with a person to taint your impression and expectations of all similar people.

Minorities in Ottawa County say they are encountering few incidents of prejudice than they did 10 years ago.

But they say some racial discrimination persists. Moreover, many don’t feel embraced by members of the majority culture.

That’s why members of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance are sponsoring a town meeting at 7pm Thursday at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Holland.

“We’re asking people to describe what our communities would be like if they were free from racial prejudice,” said Gail Harrison, executive director of the alliance. “What could be changed to make everyone feel more valued and respected?”

Panelists for the meeting are the Rev. Charles Johnson of Full Gospel All-Nation Pentecostal Church; Roth Coleman, director of the Learning Enhancement Achievement Program at COBB Community Center; Trino Perez, president of Latin Americans United for Progress; Teresa Lamb, founder of the Latino Pride Group at Zeeland Public Schools; Michael Hoa Viola-Vu, director of multicultural affairs at Davenport University; Sochetha Na, pastor of the Cambodian Fellowship of the Christian Reformed Church; and Tom Bos, a Holland businessman.

Moderating the discussion will be the Rev. Andy Fierro of Crossroads Chapel Reformed Church.

Views shared at this town meeting, and a Nov. 2 meeting in Grand Haven, will help shape the agenda for Ottawa County’s first Summit on Racism, to be held Deb. 13 at Hope College.

The summit is being modeled after “Calling All Colors” a twice-a-year conference sponsored by the Alliance to promote racial unity among youth.

Research shows that racial volatility, “white flight” and other savory complications of racial integration typically begin to appear when the minority population of an area climbs to 30 percent, Harrison said.

The city of Holland is nearing that mark, with Latino population of about 20 percent, she said.

Michael Hoa Viola-Vu, who is Vietnamese, says people seem to be more sensitive to racial issues than they were in 1982, when he first moved to West Michigan.

“The first question you’d get when people found our you were new to the area was, ‘Are you Christian?’” Viola-Vu said. “The second question was always. ‘What church are you attending?’”

While he knows racial discrimination is still a problem, Viola-Vu thinks it’s marvelous that Holland’s 167 places of worship now include Hispanic churches, Asian-American churches and an African-American Church.

Socheth Na, a pastor of the Cambodian Fellowship, said he believes getting people of color into more teaching and leadership positions will be important steps to breaking down racial barriers.

Institutions and businesses say they seek qualified minority candidates, but sometimes don’t hire them when they are on the doorstep asking for a job, he said.

Too often, the 44 families in his congregation share hurtful stories of outright discrimination or a more subtle lack of opportunities, he said.

“I remind them that within our own race there has been prejudice against the Chinese, and the educated and the uneducated, and the rich and the poor,” Na said.

The important thing is to continue walking the road toward acceptance of all humanity, he said.