2001 02-14 The Chronicle Summit on racism produces action plans

Summit on racism produces action plans
The Chronicle

Special teams will monitor a five-year effort to achieve racial harmony that participants in Ottawa County’s racism summit said should include cultural exchanges, foreign language curriculum in grade schools and commitments to hire minorities.

More than 600 people attended the first Ottawa Area Summit on Racism Tuesday at Hope College, which was designed to provide community leaders with a five-year blueprint of 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 Rehm, a Spring Lake attorney who helped organize the three-hour summit. “They seem genuinely interested in this issue. It’s like they’ve been waiting for a platform from which this could happen.

Gail Harrison, director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said the “excitement and forward momentum” of summit participants shows that racism is regarded as a social problem and racial unity “is something the community wants to happen.”

Nineteen “action teams” were formed to monitor progress on achieving seven objectives. Leaders of the action teams will report their progress o summit organizers. Strategies will be periodically assessed and perhaps revised during a five-year process.

Racial hatred is evident in as many forms as love, said keynote speaker Gregory Williams, dean of the Ohio State University Law School and author of the best-selling book, “Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black.”

Williams recounted how radically his life changed at age 9 when he was sent from his home in Washington, D.C., to Muncie, Ind., and learned he was black and not white as he had grown up thinking. Williams said he stepped off the bus into a life of abject 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 lonely brothers, gave them love and food and taught them to preserve 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.”

Closing speaker Juan Andrade Jr. of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute said he suffered similar discrimination growing up in Texas, where the 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.”