2004-03-08 Holland Sentinel "Summit continues fight against racism"

Summit continues fight against racism
Hope College will be site of fourth annual event on March 20
The Holland Sentinel

It isn't enough to ask people how to overcome racism, says Gail Harrison.

You need to show them how to do it, she says.

Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said "implementation" will be one of the key themes in the fourth Ottawa Area Summit on Racism March 20 at Hope College.

"In the past we have had keynote speakers in the morning and breakout sessions in the afternoon. This year we're bringing in the best of the best in different sectors of the community to talk about how they make things work," Harrison said.

Speakers in the areas of business, community, education, faith communities, government and health care will discuss what they've accomplished in their fields.

"These people have the best practices of racial inclusion in their sectors," Harrison said.

Paul Courant, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, and Sylvester Murray, a professor at Cleveland State University, will speak during the summit.

Alfredo Gonzales, associate provost at Hope College and chairman of the city's International Relations Commission, said work against racism needs to continue in the community even though progress has been made.

"There is a desire on our part to address some of these issues," Gonzales said. "If there is one conclusion reached by this summit, I think that it is education and conversation about issues of race. We still need to work through them."He said the summit provides a good starting point for the fight against racism.

"These people come together to try to figure out what they can do, not just individually, but collectively to conquer this evil we call racism," Gonzales said.

Since the summit was started four years ago, Harrison said there has been progress made against racism in Ottawa County.

"We have used the afternoon breakout session during the conference to develop ideas and strategies that we work on throughout the year," Harrison said.

In its first two years, the summit attracted about 650 people, with about 500 attending last year. Harrison that she hopes to see more people with the conference being moved from a weekday to a Saturday for the first time.

"There are so many people that weren't able to attend, like teachers, because they either had to be given the time off by their employers or take a vacation day. We are hoping that we can get a broader group of people by having it on a weekend," Harrison said.

The Rev. John Schmidt of Second Reformed Church in Zeeland has attended the past three summits. He said they serve an important role in teaching people to work with each other.

"It helps me understand the gifts of different cultures and ethnic groups," Schmidt said. "It also helps me become aware and conscious that this is an issue in our community."

He said the summits are successful in opening people's eyes.

"We have the opportunity in the greater Holland area to live better and come together as good neighbors if we can learn to appreciate the different contributions that we all make to the community," Schmidt said.