2000-10-31 Muskegon Chronicle "Experiences with racism focus of forum"

Experiences with racism focus of forum
The Muskegon Chronicle

One of the scheduled speakers is a former Grand Haven High School homecoming queen. Another is a high school social studies teacher. Yet another teaches Spanish to children and adults in the community.

They are among six panelists who will speak in a community wide meeting Thursday all Grand Haven-area residents whose lives in the community have been affected by racism.

But theirs are not the only voices that meeting organizers wanted to hear.

"We want to hear from people affected by racism in the North Ottawa area, not just people who live there," said Gail Harrison, executive director of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance.

"We want to hear from people who drive though. We want to hear from people who work there. What can we do to create a community that is more comfortable to work and live in?"

The discussion will take place from 7-9pm Thursday at Grand Haven Outreach Church, 17 S Second.

A public comment period will follow the panel discussion. The Rev. Ron James, pastor of Grand Haven Outreach, will moderate the discussion.

The meeting organizers refer it as Town Meeting North is a precursor to the upcoming Ottawa Area Summit on Racism, which will take place Feb 13 at Hope College.

More than 300 people turned out to Town Meeting South Sept 28 in Holland.

The February summit is sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, in collaboration with the African American Support Group, Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony and Latin Americans United for Progress. The latter three groups have headquarters in Holland.

The summit, organizers say, will explore barriers to racial inclusion in a number of different areas, from businesses and government to religion and health care.

Comments form both town meetings and from a later leadership conference will help set hte angenda for the February summit.

The summit is modeled after similar events in Grand Rapids in 1999 and 2000.

"The town meetings give local people a chance to share how they have experienced racism and discrimination and help plan how to dismantle barriers to racial inclusion in all parts of our community," James said.

Panelists will discuss how racism has affected their experience in the community and say how they could feel more valued and comfortable here.

Panelists in Thursday's town meeting will be:

Phyllis Howard, a flight attendant who has lived in Grand Haven for more than 35 years.

Thomas J Puelo Jr, a lifelong resident of Grand Haven who is a social studies teacher at Grand Haven High School. Puelo 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 School.

Vince Allen, who was formerly with the U.S. Coast Guard. He currently works in manufacturing. He has lived in the Tri-Cities since 1978.

Denny Chan, a Grand Haven High School student and columnist for the Grand Haven Tribune.

Ortencia Ruiz, violence intervention officer for Ottawa Community Corrections and formerly legal advocate for the Center for Women in Transition. Ruize moved to Grand Haven after graduating from Hope College in 1996.

But in addition to the panelists, organizers want to hear from others, including people who may not live in Grand Haven but nonetheless are affected by racism there.

"It's really critical that we get honest evaluations," James said. "We don't just want to get just one sector. Why are people living in Muskegon but working in Grand Haven?"

In addition to the six panelists, Elwood Knox, a member of the Tlingit nation of American Indians, will make comments.

Knox attended the town meeting in Holland, where he lives, and was critical that the panel included African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, Asians, and a Caucasian, but not American Indians.