2002-02-13 Holland Sentinel "Racism summit: attitude the focus"

Racism summit: attitude the focus
Event draws 665 for discussions, presentations on changing views
The Holland Sentinel

During her year and a half as a student at Hope College, Sharon Clark had begun to get the impression that the people of Holland were closed off.

Or, as the Hope sophomore put it Tuesday, they're unaware of the racism she's noticed in the area.

So to shake that feeling -- or to enlighten people -- she registered for the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance's second Ottawa Area Summit on Racism.

But as she look part in group discussions and interacted with area residents in her breakout group Tuesday, her opinion changed.

And that change had a profound effect on her.

"It's been very obvious to me and my friends that people in Holland just close themselves off to this," she said after thanking the members of her group for such frank discussions. "But it's nice to see people willing to look at where they live and realize that changes need to be made."

Clark, 19, was one of 665 people who participated in the second annual summit at Hope College on Tuesday. Participants listened to speakers including noted journalist Ray Suarez, heard dramatic presentations and poetry,
brainstormed with other attendees and drew up plans to address the problems of racism in seven sectors of community life.

And while Clark was gratified by the enthusiasm shown by those in her group, the daunting task of following through on
Tuesday's positive intentions wasn't lost on others.

"Everybody's got to get involved and follow up, and this is a good start for that," said Ivory Morris, retired Muskegon fire chief and former president of that city's NAACP chapter. "But people doing the right thing are the silent majority. This is like a huddle. If you break out of the huddle and the offensive line doesn't follow the play, then the play doesn't work."

"You've got to walk the walk."

Several speakers noted how beliefs and conditions of the past still heavily influence contemporary attitudes.

"On the inequality of yesterday is how the inequality of today is built," Suarez said.

State Rep. Paul DeWeese, a Republican from Livingston County, discussed the stereotypes of minorities he absorbed growing up in Grand Haven and how notions of white supremacy persist in American life today. He said that a first step in addressing racism is for whites to begin to understand how minorities suffer from it.

"White people must deeply enter into the trauma of racism and be wounded," he said.

Ultimately, he said, whites cannot tolerate racism any more than minorities can.

"Racial justice will not come to our society until those who are not injured are as indignant as people who are," he said.

Suarez, who spent much of his 45-minute talk addressing changing demographics in American cities, said he has
seen signs that old attitudes are changing. Where people use to move out in droves once the percentage of minorities moving into a neighborhood rose to a certain number, now people are realizing the benefits of stability.

"'They don't run because they're afraid," he said.

The event was designed to build on the accomplishments of last year's summit by furthering plans begun last year to eradicate racism from the area. Tuesday's summit opened the second year of a five-year plan foreseen by organizers, who intend to hold similar summits over the next three years.

Organizers had prepared for up to 800 participants after the initial summit drew 650 people. Gail Harrison, executive director of the diversity alliance, said she believed the weak economy kept attendance below expectations.

"The biggest shortfall we had was in the business area," she said. "I think the times just got to the people who wanted to show up."

However, participants Tuesday said they were excited about the summit. Vanessa Greene said one speaker in particular, Karen Henry, who spoke about her perspectives as an Arab-American journalist and racism in the media made her rethink diversity.

"There are so many things she could have said, but she brought up a lot of things I hadn't thought of," she said. "As an African American. I tend to pay attention to issues based on my own race, but she made me think beyond that -- really that we're all affected by racism."

John Hyde. a retired special education teacher and Park Township resident, said Tuesday's gathering should open a pathway for healing.

"I see this as a catalyst to get people to talk and to create more opportunities for people of different backgrounds in this area," he said. "This is a very positive move for the city and the area."

Attendees were asked Tuesday to volunteer for committee assignments that will keep them busy through out the year.

At next year's summit, the conclusions reached Tuesday and their