Area panelists to share stories of racism
BY GENE KAISER
The Grand Haven Tribune
On Nov. 2, six local residents will share their experiences with racism while living in the Grand Haven community, during a community-wide town meeting from 7 to 9 pm at Grand Haven Outreach Church, 17 S. Second St.
Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, explained that the meeting will be a chance
for Tri-Cities residents to hear stories of racism from people living right in their community, as well as to hear and share
their own desires for change.
"As much as they value a lot about this community - the beautiful lake, the quaint town and safe streets - the thing is that is lacking for many of these folks is the richness of cultural diversity," Harrison said.
A similar meeting to this one was held in Holland on Sept. 28, drawing a crowd of over 300 people. Both the Grand Haven and Holland meetings will lead up to the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism on Feb. 13. hosted by Hope College in Holland.
The panelists for Grand Haven's meeting include:
Phyllis Howard, an American Airlines flight attendant who has lived in Grand Haven for more than 35 years.
Thomas J. Puleo Jr. j a lifelong resident of Grand Haven and a social studies teacher at Grand Haven High School, who is also a founding member of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.
Isabel Allen, a native of Columbia who has lived in Grand Haven since 1978. She teaches Spanish at Walden Green Day
Vince Allen, currently employed in a Holland manufacturing company and formerly with the United States Coast Guard.
He has lived in the Tri-Cities since 1978.
Denny Chan, a Grand Haven High School student, who is a community columnist for the Grand Haven Tribune.
Ortencia Ruiz, a violence intervention councilor tor Ottawa Community Corrections and formerly legal advocate for the Center for Women in Transition. She moved to Grand Haven in 1996, following her graduation from Hope College.
In addition, Elwood Knox, a member of the Tlingit nation of Native Americans and a Holland resident, will present comments. Rev. Ron James of the Grand Haven Outreach Church will serve as moderator.
Harrison explained that the panelists were selected because they each have a story to tell, which may not be a visible story to the community.
"We also have a Caucasian panelist because that is also a story to tell," Harrison said.
The town meeting will begin with three of the four panelists explaining how racism has effected their experience in this community.
The other three panelists will share what could be done for them to feel valued and comfortable in the community.
After that, the meeting will be opened to audience members who would like to share their own experiences of racism or ideas for change.
"We're really hoping that audience members will share with us their experiences and what they would like to see put in place in this community," Harrison said.
Phyllis Howard, one of the panelists, said she is looking forward to bringing racial issues to the forefront and hopes to learn from the meeting why people pre-judge based on race. She said she would like to see interaction on how people of color feel about living in this area, and how people who are not of color, also feel about them living here.
"I Just want things to get put on the table. I want to be able to address racial issues from my point of view"' Howard said. "We live in such a sheltered little area."
Panelist Denny Chan, who is a freshman at Grand Haven High School, said that as the youngest panelist he would like to focus on changes that can be made in diversity awareness at school and in the.
"In order for this world to be a better place to live in, we need to bring diversity and acceptance," he said.
He explained what it is like for a him, attending a school in a predominantly Caucasian school district like Grand Haven.
"Even now that my eyes have adjusted to the white color, whenever I see someone of another ethnic origin, I kind of see them as out of place, so what we need to do is blend them in," he said.