2003-11-13 Holland Sentinel Diversity alliance hosting town hall meeting Tuesday

Diversity alliance hosting town hall meeting Tuesday
Holland Sentinel

Gail Harrison hears about racial and ethnic discrimination on a daily basis. While the cases of racism aren’t as overt as they were 30 years ago, she said they’re still out there.

Harrison, the executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, says today’s racism almost always is accidental. “It could be a questionable traffic stop or the person at the grocery store who writes a check and is asked to show an I.D. when the last three people were waved on through,” she said. “I believe it is the most significant social problem we have.”

To combat the problem, the diversity alliance will host a town hall meeting Tuesday night at St, Francis de Sales Church, 171 W. 13th Street in Holland. The event begins at 7 p.m.

The forum will feature five speakers from different ethnic groups who range from college age to near-retirement. Attendees will also have the opportunity to share their experiences with racism and ethnic discrimination.

“We are not going to fix this problem without dialog, Harrison said. “We need to hear one another and we need to listen really hard.” The meeting will act as a precursor to the alliance’s annual Summit on Racism, which is set for March 20, Harrison said. “Once we learn that racism exists and that there are tools out there to identify the way it affects each of us, we can do something about it,” she said.

Hope College professor of psychology Lorna Hernandez Jarvis will take the microphone to help people identify some of the tools they can us to combat racism. One of the most important is encouraging minorities to seek positions of power, she said.

“I don’t know if that’s racism so much as it’s just not happening,” she said. “I think that’s another concern, that people wouldn’t be interested or that they won’t vote (for a minority). Racism could be a part of that.”

Kristina Kyles, a senior at Hope College who will speak to the group, said education and an open-mind are the keys to defeating ethnic stereotypes. “Diversity is beautiful and differences are beautiful,” she said. “There just aren’t enough people who are willing to look outside of the skin and embrace those differences. “That ignorance breeds racism and all the problems that come with it,” she said.

Andres Fierro, the pastor of Crossroads Church, will moderate Tuesday’s event. He said he was encouraged by steps the community has taken on racism since the Summit on Racism’s inception in 2001.

“To me, having people say ‘I don’t know but I’m willing to listen is the reward,” Fierro said.