2001-02-14 Lakeshore Press Seven goals emerge at racism gathering

Seven goals emerge at racism gathering
Lakeshore Press

A five-year effort to achieve racial harmony should include cultural exchanges, foreign language curriculum in grade schools and commitments to hire minorities.

Those recommendations highlighted ideas to be pursued through 2006 by Lakeshore residents, according to panel members of the first Ottawa Area Summit on Racism.

More than 600 people attended Tuesday’s summit at Hope College, which was designed to provide community leaders with a blueprint for achieving racial harmony in a county that has seen rapid growth in its minority population.

“I am overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of participants,” said David Rhem, a Spring Lake attorney who is president of the chief summit organizer, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. “They seem genuinely interested in this issue. It’s like they’ve been waiting for a platform from which this could happen.”

Recommendations emerging from the 3.5 hour session:

-Diversity Training for the community

- Foreign language instruction in elementary schools.

-Interpreters and translators on staff at health care clinics.

-Interfaith community service projects

-More effort to recruit, retain and advance monitories in the workplace.

-A media watchdog to assure fair, objective and balanced coverage of diverse populations.

Nineteen “action teams” were formed to monitor progress on achieving the seven objectives. Team leaders will report progress to summit organizers, and strategies will be periodically assessed.

Hope College president James E. Bultman told participants that much has been accomplished in his lifetime to overcome physical and legal barriers to inclusion.

But people must resolve to integrate all God’s children into community institutions, he said.

Racial hatred is evident in as many forms as love, cautioned keynote speaker Gregory Williams, dean of the Ohio State University Law School and author of the book “Life on the Color Line”.

Differential treatment of people blazed a trail for the mistreatment of people, he said.

Williams, his voice sometimes quavering with emotion, recounted how racially his life changed at age 9 during along bus trip with his younger brother and “Italian” father.

When he boarded the bus in Washington, D.C., he was the white son of a small business owner who lived in a whites-only neighborhood, attended whites-only schools, skated at whites-only rinks and swam in whites-only pools.

“I never once considered the injustice of it all,” Williams said.

But when his mother left, his father’s alcoholism raged, and the business went into a nosedive. Father and sons boarded a bus for Muncie, Ind., to live with relatives.

Halfway through the trip, Williams said his father leaned across the aisle and issued a startling warning: People would treat them differently in Muncie, where people knew him and he couldn’t “pass” as white.

Williams said he stepped off that bus into a life of poverty, few opportunities and little hope. He said the anger whites displayed toward him was bewildering. His grandmother disdained him too.

But an elderly black maid befriended the brothers, gave them love and food and taught them to persevere without complaining.

“Don’t think I’m a survivor in some made-up reality,” Williams said. “This is the real deal. And it’s not just a historical footnote. This is today’s reality for so many people.”

It doesn’t take long for even foreign children to size up who holds the advantage in our society, he said.

Within two months of adopting twins from Honduras, Williams said, the boys announced to he and his wife that they wanted to “be white.”

Williams said society would benefit by opening doors of opportunity to everyone. Minorities deserve greater access to higher education, home ownership, technology and good jobs, he said.

Closing speaker Juan Andrade Jr. of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute said he suffered similar discrimination growing up in Texas, where he law considered him “white” but whites shunned him.

Mexicans in Mexico didn’t accept him either, because they considered him “white.”

He warned that righting racism would not be as easy as writing a check. Nor is this struggle a “spectator sport.” All people must take a stand against intolerance and discrimination wherever they see it, Andrade said.

“We are who we are because of the grace of God,” Andrade said.

“We need make no apologies for it. We need to be proud of who we are. We need not be ashamed.”