2004-01-27 Lakeshore Press Speakers describe their experiences with racism

Speakers describe their experiences with racism
Lakeshore Press

As a senior at Grand Haven High School, an institution with few people of color, 17-year-old Denny Chan, a Chinese American knows a thing or two about race relations.

He is confident asking complete strangers for donations to help a youth group that devotes time and energy to eliminating racism.

And, standing behind a podium and microphone Monday night, Chan sounded like a season politician – and not a high school senior –when he gave his impressions of racism in Ottawa County in front of 50 people.

He made his comments during a town hall meeting on racism at Antioch Christian Center in Grand Haven Township.

Chan, a Ferrysburg resident, recently went to a local restaurant with classmates seeking a donation to EMBRACE, a school-based group that strives for racial equality.

The restaurant’s manager quickly quipped: “We don’t have a problem with racism here. It’s more a problem in Holland.”

Chan smiled as he told the crowd that, after a little convincing, the manger eventually gave him a donation.

Understanding racism starts with education and, while Grand Haven schools have taken steps toward that goal, more needs to be done, he said.

For instance, last week, students got Martin Luther King Jr. Day off from school. But on the school district’s calendar, the day was not listed as a holiday. Instead, it was listed as a “records day” – which meant teachers were required to show up and work on grades and lesson plans.

That night, the school board’s meeting went on as scheduled. And that is not something the board does for other holidays, Chan said.

“That day is coming soon,” he told the crowd. “The work of a great leader is not being promoted, and students are not seeing the importance of his work.”

School districts need better multicultural curriculums, Chan said.

Develyn Howard, of Grand Have, spoke during the town meeting as well. She said racism has forced her to make a concerted effort to dress nicely and speak with proper grammar so people do not peg her as uneducated. If she doesn’t do those things, she fears she will be followed by security while walking through local grocery stores.

And she can’t stop that voice of doubt from speaking inside her head sometimes. For instane, if a line opens up in the grocery store and the clerk invites a white person to be first to check out, she wonders if she was not picked because she is black.

The forum was sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. Spokeswoman Gail Harrison said information shared during Monday’s meeting will be discussed in greater detail during the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism at Hope College in March

The goal of the summit is to find solutions to racism in West Michigan.