2005-02-16 Holland Sentinel "Quest for diversity 'a journey of healing'"

Quest for diversity 'a journey of healing'
Community leaders, residents gather for final Summit on Racism
The Holland Sentinel

As the muted morning light streamed through the stained glass windows of Dimnent Memorial Chapel at Hope College Tuesday, community leaders, activists and residents gathered to discuss the need for diversity in our workforce,ethnic parity in our school system and how to nurture a more inclusive community.

The fifth and final Ottawa Area Summit on Racism brought more than 300 people to Hope College.

"Five years of dialogue, five years of action, thank you Holland for your support," said Jeff Ebihara, the Park Township clerk. "This isn't the end of dialogue in action -- this is the beginning."

Even as they hugged and patted each other on the back, everyone agreed there was still work to be done.

"We are all affected by racism," said Gail Harrison, executive director of Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. "None of us are born racists or asking to be born into a racist society -- and yet society continues to influence our perception, which affects life opportunities for people of color."

Sharon Netto, manager of Leadership Development at Haworth's corporate headquarters, talked about how that perception directly affected her when she moved to Holland two years ago.

"Healing racism is a journey," Netto said. "It's a personal act to make that journey."

It was a personal journey for Mattie Hampton, a district administrator of the Grand Rapids public schools, who asked herself what she could do to address the minority dropout rate in her school system. Michigan has one of the highest minority dropout rates in the country.

"It's a long road to travel, but I have to be willing to make an impact," Hampton said.

"One of the most incredible things that has happened is the conversation and dialogue that was generated by summits," said Simone Jonaitis, an administrator at Grand Valley State University. "It's typical that people look at the surface, but this made people look at issues much more seriously."

The summit created "a new paradigm that moves us beyond black and white color lines," said keynote speaker Frank H. Wu, dean of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit since July 2004 and a former law faculty member at Howard University, Washington, D.C., one of the country's best known historically black colleges.Wu, author of the books "Yellow -- Race in America Beyond Black and White" and "Rights and Reparations: Law and the Japanese American Internment," said the book "Yellow" was born out of his frustration -- not at what he found, but at what he didn't find perusing books in his schools library.

"I was offended, not as an Asian American, but because I wanted to get an A on my term paper," Wu joked before turning more serious. "These books did not accurately represent the world we lived in."

Wu, who grew up in Detroit, said that the dialogue on race in America often stops at the racial divide of black and white. Regardless of the color of your skin, your heritage or your religion, Wu told participants at the conference to be inclusive of everyone in their discussions on race.

The issue of race and how to address racism is only going to get more complicated, Wu said. Demographic trends show that by the year 2050 the United States will no longer have a white majority -- continued immigration and inter-marriage are creating multi-racial communities -- making the dialogue more complicated. Another issue is complacency -- the belief that racism was addressed by the civil rights movement and affirmative action. However, societal patterns say otherwise. Where people choose to live, send their children to school, and work are both economically and racially segregating our communities. Wu said he believed the segregation was not conscious and added that made it even more dangerous.

"I believe in diversity, because I believe in democracy," Wu said. "Diversity like democracy is a process not an outcome."