2003-08-01 Grand Rapids Press LEDA puts out call for churches, individuals to help organize next year's summit

LEDA puts out call for churches, individuals to help organize next year’s summit
Grand Rapids Press

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance has its offices at Crossroads Chapel, on 12th Street at Lincoln Avenue in Holland, but its challenge goes out to all area churches and their pastors. “The need for faith community involvement (in combating racism) goes beyond it being a good idea. It must become an imperative for the church, said Gail Harrison, executive director for LEDA.

Harrison referred to a recent study, using the 2000 census, listing Michigan as “the most racially segregated state” in the United States in housing, education and other factors. The report was cited at the 2003 Summit on Racism in March at Hope College. LEDA is a major coordinating organization for the annual summit.

More specifically, Harrison pointed to Holland and the Tri-Cities of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg as two Ottawa County residential areas where obvious fair housing and other factors point to de-facto segregation. “If churches would get behind fair housing,” Harrison said, there would be no problem meeting a $15,000 Steelcase matching grant to address the issue. To date, she said, very little of the match has been forthcoming from municipal governments.

She specifically challenged pastors to speak from the pipit on the need for parishioners to become aware-and then active-in fighting racism in its various forms. Parishioners, she said, include people from business, education, government and other sectors of the community that need to be motivated to act.

“It will take more than one pastor,” she explained, adding a network of church leaders will be needed to launch more church-based initiatives to fight racism in Lakeshore communities. “Racism today is not the Klu Klux Klan or bad people,” she noted. “Acts of racism are more unintentional yet equally as damaging to people of color.” To bring more awareness, especially to mostly white churches, Harrison offered a number of practical ways parishioners and clergy can get involved.

First, she said, is by helping to prepare the 2004 Summit on Racism next March. Planners, including LEDA, are seeking churches and all agencies, organizations and groups to volunteer to be “collaborators” in designing and hosting next year’s summit. “The first three years of the summit have resulted in many area companies and organizations working on diversity and anti-racism activities,” Harrison said. “We think the next two summits can be even better with their ideas and involvement.”

Work on the 2004 Summit will get under way this month. “Education and action are the two most important ways for churches to get involved,” she said. On the education side, LEDA will help churches host an Institute on Healing Racism, which can be organized in several ways form either 10 weeks down to a concentrated two-day weekend format.

These institutes give people a firsthand exposure to the faces and the stories of those who have and still are experiencing acts of racism-intentioned or not. “Another way to address issues of racism is for churches to invite speakers,” Harrison said. With the help of people in the community, churches can begin to ask themselves, “How are we creating an environment that is comfortable for all God’s people?” she offered. In addition to congregational action, Harrison said she is hoping for a “broader base” of church leadership to first know about how racism is perpetuated and, then, to understand how to act as a faith-based community.“The faith community has power to wield for the greater community if the Gospel says, and if we really believe, ‘Love thy neighbor,’” Harrison said.

Individuals also are being asked to become “Champions of Diversity” under a new fund-raising initiative launched recently by LEDA. Each “champion” is asked to raise $1,000 in the community to help pay for LEDA programs.

For information on how churches and individuals can learn more about combating racism, LEDA and its programs, visit its Web site at: www.ethnicdiversity.org or contact Gail Harrison at: LEDA@ethnicdiversity.org or by calling (616) 846-9074