Summit's message begins to spread
BY MELISSA SLAGER
Students learning about Hispanic and black leaders. Ethnic minorities acquiring a home without fear of discrimination. Repentance for the dark cloud of slavery.
These are among the many goals and events forming on the horizon as volunteers reach the halfway mark in efforts stemming from the first Ottawa Area Summit on Racism six months ago.
Nearly 650 people came together on Feb. 13 with the common desire to see racial harmony in a county that has seen rapid growth in its minority populations. About 450 signed up to carry the aims of the summit into their communities, and now about 200 are working around vacations and jobs to help bring it all to fruition.
“I believe the summit has had a compelling impact on the community,” said Gail Harrison, director of the Grand Haven-based Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance that is organizing the summits. “We’ve brought the subject out of the closet and people are talking.”
And no one is talking more than the nearly 200 volunteer strategists meeting in various subgroups and focusing on community, education, faith, government and the media.
While some groups have staged events already, the fruits of the first summit’s labors are slated to bloom in full force this fall.
Efforts are pulled forward with a good dose of enthusiasm, volunteers said.
But Fred L. Johnson III, a Hope College professor and member of the Community Action Team, cautions that the enthusiasm is rooted in the fact that there is a problem in the first place, a problem that has yet to be solved.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet pill.”
So, along with the enthusiasm goes a lot of hard work. “There’s a lot of things getting done … We’re going to take this a step at a time,” Johnson said.
Among the results already anticipated:
-The Business Action Team is a focus of every other groups’ attentions as it works to complete one of its goals with a “diversity tool kit” that would include the best practices for recruiting, retaining and promoting a diver work force. Team facilitator David Rhem is surveying businesses across the area and hopes to have the kit done before the end of the year.
- One of the groups that plans to use the kit is the Health Care Action Team, which is focusing primarily on developing a diverse work force and training employers and employees. “I think we’ve really come a long way,” said team facilitator Eleanor Lopez of Holland Community Hospital, noting training models will be in place at her workplace within the next few months.
- The Community Action Team has plans this fall for community forums that will explore racism and its roots. The first such forum will be held at 7pm Oct. 16 at St. Francis de Dales Church. Hope College professor Fred L. Johnson III will lead the forum.
This team already has been visible with the recent housing discrimination cases locally. Working with the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids, Johnson said the group hopes to soon have its own Lakeshore office in place to combat the discrimination ethnic minorities face here when trying to rent or buy a home in certain areas.
- Those in the Education Action Committee are proceeding in timely fashion with several projects getting in gear for the start of the school year. Among the team’s goals is to develop a model for multicultural curriculum. Team facilitator David Douglas, a member of the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, said group members are meeting with area administrators to see what schools are doing with diversity anti-bias education.
Results of the education groups’ planning could also include more projects for students, such as multicultural clubs and LEDA’s “Calling All Colors” program for middle-schoolers.
- Schools could also soon see an Institute for Healing Racism program, thanks to the Faith Action team, that has met with the education team about the possibility. The faith team has already been active, holding one of the 10-week Institute programs shortly after the summit and planning another starting in October. Leaders for the Institutes, who have already gone through the program, will be trained this September, said Mary DeRidder, team facilitator and outreach director at First United Methodist Church in Holland.
The Tri-Cities area delegation to the action team also plans an Institute program for the fall. Through facilitator Dan Qualls said the Tri-Cities is not a diverse area on the surface, churches have responded well to the idea of being sensitized to racial issues. They realize that “this is a part of what it means to be a Christian,” said Qualls, director of Tri-Cities Ministries in Grand Haven.
With grant proposals being considered, DeRider said she also hopes to see a part-time director appointed by the first of the year to handle the Institutes program in Ottawa County.
The Faith Action Team also plans a special service for Sept. 16, the 500th anniversary of the inception of slavery in the Americas. The worship service, which will take place at 3pm, in Hope College’s Dimnent Chapel, remembers the dark past in a “repentant way” to create a better future, DeRidder said. Musicians, storytellers and speakers are among the participants.
- The Government Action Committee is going with the flow of public debate and policy, taking up issues as they arise. Currently, member Phil Coray said they are looking into concerns raised over a Secretary of State policy that requires all materials to be translated into English. The department had reportedly sent customers to places where the services could not be performed, said Coray, a resident care aide at Appledorn Assisted Living Center.
-Things are slowly progressing for the Media Action Group, according to facilitator Lind Blaukamp, owner of Leaf and Bean coffee shop. The group is finalizing a document that will answer questions about the amorphous media, including a list of specific contacts for specific issues. Blaukamp said the list should be ready by November.
The group is also surveying local media organizations to see what they are doing in terms of coverage and hiring practices. “At this point, I’m disappointed,” said Blaukamp, noting only three of the 25 surveys they sent out where returned. Those three did show positive signs, though, she added.
“I’m feeling very good about our group… We all wish it were going faster, but we’re all busy and working with other things, too,” she said.
The summit project is a five-year effort, with Lakeshore residents pursuing ideas spawned at the Feb. 13 event through 2006.
At the first summit, more than 100 people were turned away and expectations were surpassed with nearly 650 participations.
Harrison said they are planning for a larger crowd of 800 people for the next year’s summit, slated fro Feb. 12, 2002.
Keynote speakers already are lined up, including Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for “The NewsHouse with Jim Leher,” and longtime Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who was actively involved in the civil rights movement.
Among the major changes to next year’s summit will be a track for those who are not quite ready to be strategists, but who do want more information on racism and the way racism works, Harrison said.