2002-01-30 Lakeshore Press Second annual Summit on Racism will examine community findings

Second annual Summit on Racism will examine community findings
Lakeshore Press

Embracing diversity takes more than an open mind. It takes a toolkit.

That’s the conclusion of the local people who gathered in “Action teams” a year ago to examine racism in seven areas of the community and develop strategies for eliminating it.

The teams will report their findings and progress during the second annual Ottawa Area Summit on Racism, to be held Feb. 12 at Hope College.

More than 220 returning and future action-team members already have registered for the event. Registration continueds through Feb. 5. Applications are available online at www.ethnicdiversity.org or by phoning (616) 846-9074.

“I’m really pleased with the progress in the first year of this five-year process,” said David Rhem of Spring Lake, president of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which sponsors the summit. “I think when the action teams share what they’ve been doing, it will create a synergy that will provide a great springboard taking us into the next year.”

The summit will feature a racially diverse lineup of guest speakers, including Ray Suarez, the Washinton-based senior correspondent for the PBS evening news program, “The Newshouse”: state Rep. Paul DeWeese; Hunter Genia, a clinical mental health director of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Behavioral Health Program; and Karen Henry, a journalist who lectures on media images of Arabs and Muslims.

The program also will feature a dramatic presentation about the African-American experience titled “Same Game, Different Day,” written by Fred L. Johnson III, a Hope College professor. The production is performed by Because He Cares, Inc, a Christian drama troupe headquartered in Akron, Ohio.

Les Lim, a Michigan State University student who was raised in Holland, will give a dramatic reading of a poem about being Asian-American. Students in Michael Viola Vu’s Tae Kwon Do Academy will perform a dragon dance.

About 660 area residents attended the first summit last year – 200 more than organizers anticipated. This time, organizers have reserved facilities to accommodate 800 people, many of whom also will serve on action teams.

Summit participants who believe they do not understand issues surrounding racism well enough to contribute to an action team can choose to attend the workshop “Racism: Discovering the Reality.”

Members of LEDA and other collaborating groups said they recognized the Lakeshore is growing from its historical roots as a rural area that primarily is home to white people of Dutch descent.

The area is becoming more urban and suburban. It also is become more ethnically and culturally diverse.

The up side, they say, is the that this makes the Lakeshore a more interesting place to live.

The down side is that the growing pains often experienced as racial tensions acted out in the community’s largest public institutions: businesses, neighborhoods, educational facilities, faith communities, government actions, health-care offerings and the information media.

Action teams addressing racism in those areas hope to finds ways to include all residents in a more vibrant and harmonious Lakeshore.

So far, teams have approached eliminating racism with collaboration, not confrontation.

“It’s like throwing a stone in the water and letting the circles spread out,” said Ann Weller, a member of the media action team.

Rhem, an attorney, worked on a business subcommittee that obtained a grant from the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce to pay the Frost Institute at Hope College survey about 40 local companies’ methods of recruiting, retaining and advancing employees of color.

“The survey allowed us to collect, in one spot, many of the best practices that are being used locally,” Rhem said. “The 20-page document is by no means exhaustive, but it could be used as a sort of tool kit by companies, big and small, if they are so inclined, to develop a work force that looks more like the community.”

Kysha Frazier, a Holland resident who is a project manager for a Grand Rapids engineering company, spent the past year on a subcommittee that brought 27 area educators together for an Oct. 3 meeting to share how institutes they represent train staff to be racially sensitive, and seek to hire a diverse work force.

School administrators long have recognized the importance of providing children with teacher role models who are ethnically diverse, but say recruitment efforts often are thwarted because too few minorities pursue careers in education.

The subcommittee also hosted breakfast meetings for educators at Hope College, Davenport University and Grand Valley State University.

“Networking really helped people connect with others who could support their efforts,” Frazier said.