2004-03 West Michigan Today Ottawa Area Summit on Racism

Ottawa Area Summit on Racism
West Michigan Today

When Gail Harrison heard stories about how many minority families were not feeling welcomed or accepted by the W
West Michigan community, she was surprised to hear that was still happening in the 1990’s. Prompted to take action, in 1996, Harrison 17 other concerned North Ottawa residents organized the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance. “Not to intellectualize racism any longer, but to actually do something about it,” Harrison said.

Today the group of concerned residents, now called Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, has grown into an effort spanning the lakeshore communities of Grand haven to Holland, concentrating on “addressing racial intolerance, dismantling racial barriers and celebrating diversity.” LEDA’s most noted efforts stem from the development of the annual Ottawa Area Summit on Racism.

This year will mark the fourth out of a five year plan for community leaders to come together and strategize how to break racial barriers, gain a better understanding of the importance of racial diversity and develop mutual trust between minority and majority populations.

“The theme for the 2004 Summit-to be held March 20 at Hope College in Holland-is “Sharing the Vision.” Highlights of the day will include workshops, breakout sessions and two keynote speakers that have been instrumental in promoting racial inclusion.

University of Michigan Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul N Courant is scheduled to speak in the morning about the role of Affirmative Action. Courant was part of a team that assisted the University of Michigan in battling admissions lawsuits such as Gratz et al. V. Bollinger. Sylvester Murray, Professor of Urban Studies and director of the Urban Center’s Public management Program at Cleveland State University, will speak in the afternoon about how racial polarization hinders economic development.

Last year the Summit attracted 500. This year, Harrison expects 500-600 to attend. Action teams representing six community sectors: Business, community, education, faith communities, government and health care, will also report on their progress in implementing systematic, institutional change. In addition, each sector will identify barriers that still exist and what will need to be done to further improvement.

The day (of the Summit) gets a lot of attention, but the real genius work is done through the year,” Harrison said. “Those are the changes that really impact the community.” In addition to the Summit, LEDA spearheaded and maintains a variety of programs designed to promote racial and ethnic inclusion, including Calling All Colors, a race unity project for middle school students empowering them to eliminate stereotypes and racism by teaching the importance of diversity.

The migrant mentoring Program matches the children of migrant farm workers with volunteers who provide social and academic support. “We wanted to be a welcoming presence in the community,” Harrison said. “It’s about sharing resources.” LEDA also works on fair housing issues, networking, providing diversity training and encouraging employers to go beyond simply hiring minorities to promoting diversity in the workplace.

The Summit on Racism will be hosted by Hope College on March 20. For information about LEDA or to register for the Summit on Racism, call (616) 846-9074 or visit the LEDA Web site at www.ethncdiversity.org .