2004-01-28 Holland Sentinel "Community shares ideas, admits faults at race forum"

Community shares ideas, admits faults at race forum
The 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.

"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.

While Chan and Howard see things from 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-Saxon 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 teen-agers said she did not pay much attention to the ethnic make up 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 things 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 challenged audience members to ask themselves, "Whose best interest is it in to have a diverse community?"

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."