2000-12-15 Grand Haven Tribune Diversity organization working hard to make everyone aware of sensitivity

Diversity organization working hard to make everyone aware of sensitivity
Grand Haven Tribune

For Gail Harrison, ethnic diversity is a crusade that Grand Haven area residents should embrace.

Harrison is the director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance that works to promote unity among people.

“Be careful of what you say about people and to people, especially relating to their color and race,” she said. “Careless words can hurt others in your family, neighborhood, community and nation. Name-calling is not just cruelty typical of children hurting other kids; adults can do the same in jest at work or other activities in their daily lives.”

Harrison has talked with many hurting people, especially when there is a difference in race and color. One woman, who had been chosen as a high school homecoming queen in her students days, said “There are times people look at me like something is wrong with me, like I’m dirty. I just want to be treated equal.”

The goal of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, since it was established in June 1996, is to foster an environment where everyone will have an equal opportunity to enjoy a quality life.

“We can break down barriers and build respect among others by just choosing the right words when talking to people and about people; it’s as simple as that when a person is serious about helping create a friendly atmosphere,” Harrison told Rotarians.

As an example, during World War II, the enemy in the Pacific was often referred to as a “Jap.” It has taken half a century for our country to atone for that particular prejudice. For centuries, blacks suffered from discrimination throughout the Unites States, and although the African American culture has gained great mainstream acceptance, institutional racism still exists.

Harrison said she continues to speak out on the ethnic diversity challenge to service clubs and other groups because “we know that the answer is more than education and economics – it is individual stewardship for racial equality, too.”

Town meetings have been held in Grand Haven and Holland to gain specific insights about obstacles in improving racial relations. With growing numbers of Latino, Asian and African American people moving in, neighborhoods are changing and there is a need to promote building bridges for ethnic unity and harmony.