2004-01-27 Grand Haven Tribune Area residents dicuss race at town meeting

Area residents discuss race at town meeting
Grand Haven Tribune

Although there have been steps made in the community toward emphasizing diversity, Grand haven High School senior Denny Chan said more can still be done. “I still feel that it’s not enough and we have to face the reality,” said Chan during a town meeting on racism at Antioch Christian Center in Grand Haven Township Monday night.

The event was sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA). “I thought it was a powerful dialogue,” said Gail Harrison, executive Director of LEDA. “I think it tells us that there has been some work done in the community but we have a long way to go.”

Others also shared their stories and experiences concerning race during the meeting. “Overt racism does not occur with our family,” said Develyn Howard, a 10-year resident. Still, there are some things Howard said she as an African American must be “hyper sensitive” to. In order to be taken seriously and not project a stereotype, Howard said she must be careful to always dress nicely and be articulate. “I always wonder if look suspicious,” she said.

While Chan and Howard see things form one side of the spectrum, area resident Belinda Fish also gave her side of the story. Fish described herself to audience members as a W.A.S.P. (White Anglo Saxton Protestant) and a racist who passionately wants to change her views. “I’ve always had a gnawing sense that that was part of my make-up,” she said. “I’m not overtly racist.” However, Fish said that unconsciously and subtly, “I have biases in my heart and soul…”

The mother of three teenagers said she did not pay much attention to the ethnic makeup of the area when she and her family first moved to the area from Virginia. Fish described her previous home as a rich, fast-paced and growing place. “I’ve seen that contrast,” she said. “I’m just saddened that (diversity) isn’t here.” However, she said she soon began to notice and began getting involved.

Fish, Howard and Chan not only shared their stories, but challenged others to be agents of change. Chan challenged people to promote racial justice at home. “Being around multi-cultural people is pretty hard here in Grand Haven,” he said. “People are afraid of tings they don’t know.”Chan said that diversity also needs to be stressed in the school curriculum, but realizes that “change can’t come overnight.”

Howard said the future generation needs to be prepared for the world and not just Grand Haven. “We live in a global society,” she said. “The world is a much smaller place.” Fish admonished people to use their personal spheres of influence to make a difference. “Do we want to be a community that makes things happen, wants things to happen or ask what the hell happened,” Howard said.