2002-01-09 Grand Haven Tribune Much accomplished since the initial Summit on Racism

Much accomplished since the initial Summit on Racism
Grand Haven Tribune

Since the first Ottawa Area Summit on Racism last February, hundreds of Ottawa County residents have been working on strategies to eliminate racism and create a better understanding of diversity issues. Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA) officials say they are amazed by what has been done over the past year and are hopeful that the second summit, scheduled for next month, will create more of an interest from this side of the county.

“I think for the first year, we’ve accomplished a great deal, and it speaks highly of the level of community interest o this issue,” said Gail Harrison, executive director of the LEDA, which sponsors the day long event. “There are times I have to shake my head and say “I can’t believe this is really happening.’ It’s just so wonderful.” “When you hear what’s been going on…it’s really remarkable,” agreed David Rhem, president of the LEDA Board of Directors.

But Harrison and Rhem said that they hope the second summit, planned for Feb. 12 at Hope College in Holland, will create more activity in the northern section of the county. Harrison said that most of the work resulting from the first summit has been done in Holland.

This year, LEDA is prepared for a higher level of participation from the entire county. Last year an over whelming interest in the event forced officials to eventually close registration. About 650 people attended that summit. “We’re prepared for 800 people this year,” Harrison said. Those wishing to attend the summit, which will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., will need to pre-register.

Registration forms are available at the LEDA Web site at www.ethnicdiversity.org. Those who do not have Internet access can call LEDA at 846-9074. During the first summit, workshops were held to define racial barriers and design strategies to overcome them in the sectors of business, community, education, faith communities, government, healthcare and media.

At this year’s summit, a video will be shown on the accomplishments of 2001 before break-out sessions are held to plan action steps for the coming year. Rhem, who served on one of the two action teams from the business sector, said that over the past year his team has created a tool kit of best practices for the recruitment, retention and advancement of a diverse workforce. He added that the team will be publishing its research into a booklet, which will contain suggestions and resources for employers who want to diversify their workforce. The booklet will be available at the summit.

Rhem said he is pleased with what has been accomplished this year, and he thinks the second summit “will be a confirmation of the efforts of everyone involved, and it will also invigorate everyone to continue working and addressing these issues.

Dan Qualls, executive director of Tri-Cities Ministries, said that the faith community action team spent the past year surveying local churches and found there is a desire to be proactive in addressing issues of diversity and creating a welcoming atmosphere. Qualls said that as a result of that survey, the team is planning to host an Institute on Healing Racism, like those currently held in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland. Qualls said they plan to hold one of these institutes in the Tri-Cities sometime this spring. He added that he expects to see a “good response.”

“I wish that the things would happen more quickly, but at the same time we are looking toward a sustainable change in the community and that always takes time,” he said of the year since the last summit. Also during the past year, local rotary clubs have held a speaker series on racism, a health care action tem put together a model for diversity training, and an education action team held breakfast meetings to discuss diversity training and the hiring of a diverse workforce.

“This is the fruit of the labor,” Harrison said. “It’s critical in order to consider the summit a success, to watch changes taking place, to see work being done. And that has thrilled me.” In addition to the strategy sessions, Harrison said that a new workshop will be offered this year for those who would like to learn more about racism before they work on solving it. A learning workshop entitled “Racism: Discovering the Reality” will be offered as an alternative to the strategy workshops.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for people who came last year and said ‘I’m not quite ready for his step yet,” said Harrison. LEDA is sponsoring this second of five summits, in collaboration with Latin Americans United for Progress, The Alliance of Cultural and Ethnic Harmony and C.O.B.B community Outreach.

The keynote speaker at the summit will be Ray Suarez, a Washington-based senior correspondent for The Newhour, the PBS evening news program. Suarez has been a long-time member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and is a founding member of the Chicago Association of Hispanic Journalists. He also wrote the book “The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration: 1966-199.”