2002-02-13 Grand Haven Tribune "Fighting Racism"

Fighting Racism
County residents take next step towards solving racism
Grand Haven Tribune

HOLLAND - Rev. David May was impressed with the work he saw being done Tuesday at the second annual Ottawa Area Summit on Racism in Holland.

And in a way, that would make him a proud parent. May said the summit, held at Hope College, was like the first child of the Grand Rapids Summit on Racism, a process that he founded a few years ago.

The Ottawa Area Summit is a duplicate of that model and May said he is excited that it has been reproduced  successfully.

"I think the beginning of success is pretty evident," he said Tuesday. "The very fact that there/are 500 people here in this building is a measure of success"

According to May, the idea of the summit evolved in 1997 from meetings on the issue of racism in Grand Rapids churches. He said that they wanted to create something that would be more than an event about racism. It would be a step forward, The first Grand Rapids summit was held in 1999 and attendance has grown each year. The fourth summit
is set for March.

Since its beginning, more than 1,000 people have gone through the Institute on Healing Racism; major businesses have
adopted programs to hire and retain a diverse workforce and 10 area college presidents have made a pact to celebrate diversity.

"It's phenomenal to me. It's exciting and it's almost self-energizing," May explained of the summit.

On Tuesday, about 560 Ottawa County residents turned out for the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance's second Ottawa Area Summit on Racism to work on taking similar steps in their own community. They began their day by hearing what had been accomplished since the first summit last year.

An action team from the business sector reported that they had developed a booklet describing the best practices for developing and maintaining a more diverse workforce. A community action team is targeting the issue of fair housing and has developed a complaint line for those who may have been denied housing. An education action team surveyed school districts in the hopes of developing a multi-cultural curriculum.

"Now we're focusing on the next steps. Where do we go from here?" explained David Rhem, president of the LEDA Board of Directors.

Participants spent a big part of the day in break-out sessions, working on how they could build on what was created since last year and develop new strategies for overcoming racial barriers.

"It is year two, so there is a maturation and an evolution that takes place;" explained Gail Harrison, executive director of the LEDA. "It's kind of like the honeymoon is over and we're down to the hard work."

Harrison said she was pleased that through this year's summit, they were able to offer more diverse speakers as well as a performance on the issue of fair housing; a poetry interpretation on the experiences of.an Asian American and students from the Michael Hoa-Tae Kwon-Do Academy performing a dragon dance.

Keynote speaker Ray Suarez, a Washington-based senior correspondent for The Newshour, the PBS evening news program, used most of his talk to address the changing demographics around the country. He told the summit crowd that there is no changing this country's past and no point in using that past to air grievances about today's racial injustices.

"But the past gave us the today that we have to work with," he explained.

He commended everyone for attending the summit, explaining that some communities you'ld probably wait for the worst to happen before starting this process.

"(The summit) has gone at the problem in such a smart kind of way," he said.

The crowd also heard from Karen Henry, an Arab American journalist from Grand Rapids, who spoke about the many negatives images of Arabs in the media and the Iack of positive images to balance them out. Henry showed slides
of various newspaper headlines and photos that portrayed Arabs as violent and angry people. She added that even Disney movies like "Aladdin" have included this stereotype of violence.

"Fairer representations of who we are will help create a balance," she said.

This was the second of five summits that will be held. It was sponsored by the LEDA in collaboration with Latin Americans United for Progress, The Alliance of Cultural and Ethnic Harmony and C.O.B.B. Community Outreach.

This second summit, did see a dip in attendance, however, compared to last year. About 650 people attended the first summit forcing the LEDA to close registration for the event. This year, there were about 100 people less.

Harrison said, "I can only guess the economy had an impact on this day." She explained that with businesses reducing workforces, they may not be able to spare their workers for a day-long summit.