Summit Focuses on educating local residents about discrimination
At the first the Summit on Racism, Ryan Cotton, former Grand Haven City Manager, learning about the hidden way racism is expressed in our community.
“A person can be at Meijers – a minority – and they’ll pay attention to those in line a head of them,” Cotton said. The cashier will exchange pleasantries with the white customers, but when the person of color reaches the cashier, “the differences are stark,” Cotton said: “They were served like everyone else, but there was a warmth that was lacking.”
“The Summit on racism really opened my eyes to those situations,” Cotton said.
On February 11, the third annual Summit on Racism will be held at Hope College to inform participants about racism and provide them with the tools to take action and eradicate it.
“The goal is to identify racism as a pressing community issue,” LEDA executive director Gail Harrison said.
Often people do not recognize racism when they see it, Harrison says.
“It’s not about being part of the KKK,” Harrison said. “I hear all the time ‘I have lived here all my life and I cannot believe that racism exists.’ [People] have not seen it manifested because they’re white.”
Organizers feel the Summit has successfully accomplished its objective.
“It’s got a lot of dialogue going – at least in the Southern part of the county,” LEDA board member and sociology teacher Tom Puleo said.
In previous years, community response has been overwhelming.
“I had to shut down registration at six-hundred,” Harrison said of the first Summit.
This year, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which is sponsoring the event, is prepared for up to eight hundred participants.
However, Puleo says that Grand Haven has been less involved in the Summit than areas further south, such as Holland.
“I don’t know if it’s because [the Summit] is in Holland or because people don’t see [racism] as an issue in Grand haven,” Puleo said
In previous years, the Summit has had breakout sessions to allow participants an opportunity to focus on their area of expertise. Media, religious organizations, education, business, and government are sessions that the Summit has offered.
This year there will be nine workshops available, including ”Understanding the Arab World” and “artistic Expression.” For participants who just want to learn more about racism, sessions on “Understanding Racism” and “Exploring Racism and Poverty” are also available.
Workshop participants remain involved even after he Summit itself wraps up.
“The goal of the [workshops] is that people will work through the year to address issues of racism,” Harrison said. “Each year they come back and report on what they’ve accomplished.”
One of the Summit’s most notable achievements, Harrison says, was the creation of a fair housing committee in Holland and the establishment of a hotline for those who feel they have been discriminated against in the housing business.
A group of educators has also come together every month for “breakfast Links” meetings to discuss ways they are breaking down barriers between groups in their schools.
The business workshop resulted in the creation of a manual for attracting more business people of color.
Held during school hours, the Summit is not aimed at a student audience.
“I believe strongly in educating youth but I also believe that adults should take responsibility for effecting change,” Harrison said.
However, Puleo hopes to lead EMBRACE club in an effort to start a youth equivalent of the Summit on Racism after a Grand Rapids model that several Grand Haven High School students have attended in years past.