2004-03-21 Lakeshore Press Speakers - Economic divide must be crossed

Speakers - Economic divide must be crossed
Lakeshore Press

Big problems were brewing in communities where wealthy whites can afford to buy $500,000 homes and minorities are unemployed or earning too little to pay taxes or buy necessitates.

That was the message Saturday from the director of the Urban center’s Public Management Program at Cleveland State University,.

Sylvester Murray, a former city manager in San Diego, Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, and Inkster, spoke to about 300 people at the annual Ottawa Area Summit on Racism at Hope College.

He said the mission of government should be to create good jobs to break down racial polarization.

“The fact is, money has a way of eliminating discrimination in this country,” Murray said. “If you’ve got enough money, you can buy a house in a segregated neighborhood and buy yourself the best health care.”

“The more people who can pay for their respect, rather than having to beg for it, I think we’re better off.”

Some in the audience blistered at that position, asserting that economics should not be the basis for ethnics.

Muraary said he doesn’t disagree. But he noted that decades of working to build racial inclusion with moral and social appeals have not been very effective in eliminating segregation.

“All I’m saying is maybe it’s time to take an economic tract,” Murray said. “People make decisions on what makes sense economically. This may be a way it will be accepted.”

Murray’s comments resonated with others made by Paul Courant, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan.

Courant noted that public schools are almost as “resegregated” today as they were before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision 50 years ago because neighborhoods tend to be racially segregated.

Americans are more likely to sit with someone of another color at work than they are to have that same experience while attending a worship service, wedding or funeral, he said.

American is strengthened when the ideas and talents of diverse people are exchanged, he said.

“Even if you don’t do it for love there are good reasons to do it for money,” Courant said.

He said organizations are wise to make conscientious effort to assemble diverse groups. He praised athletic teams and the military services as examples of how diverse individuals an work effectively to achieve a common goal.

The summit began with a warning by Hope’s associate provost Alfredo Gonzalez, that protesters might attempt to disrupt the event.

A member of the Holland Peacemakers accidently received an email from a Zeeland man who was attempting to get people to Holland to protest an anti-war demonstration and the “liberal summit on racism.” There was no protest.

Fewer people attended the summit than each of the previous three events, which were held on Tuesdays. But the director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, Gail Harrison, said she was not disappointed with the turnout. Her group was the chief organizer.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for people to participate who can’t get off work,” Harrison said. “Our numbers are lower this year, but my sense is that enthusiasm is high. The people here care so much about this issue that they’re willing to give up time with their families. That’s real dedication.”