2008-09-16 Holland Sentinel "Community sends message"


Community sends message with series of diversity events
By MEGAN SCHMIDT
The Holland Sentinel

Park Township, MI —

It’s been almost a month since a Park Township family awoke to find a racial slur spray-painted on its driveway, and mother of three Darla Robinson said her family has been working on forgiveness.

“When you’re attacked, it’s easy to say, ‘I’m going to be just as hateful to everyone else,’ and start taking everyone with a pinch of salt,” Robinson said. “But for us as a family, we had to go to God and tell him to ask us to be forgiving.”

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office continues to search for the suspects in a string of vandalism that included the graffiti at the Robinsons, which took place overnight between Aug. 17 and 18 in the North Bristol Street area.

Meanwhile, organizations and friends of the Robinsons have worked together to say that the actions of one or a small group do not reflect the community consensus on the worth of diversity. They are planning a series of events to make their message heard.

First is a community potluck on Sunday, Sept. 21, at Kollen Park.

The Community Unity Potluck, sponsored by the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony and the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, is at the bandshell from 3 to 6 p.m.

Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said several organizations are also organizing community and school forums on hate crimes, although no dates have been set.

When she first heard the news of the graffiti at the Robinson home on Aug. 18, Kim Douglas knew she had to do something. Her daughters go to the same dance school as the Robinsons’ two girls and the two families often plan activities together.

“We were the first people Darla and Avelock called,” Douglas said. “I was stunned. I just started crying.”

Douglas said she and her husband helped found the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony several years ago, but her interest in community activism was once again piqued by the graffiti. She decided to help organize the community picnic.

“A lot of notoriety has come to the Robinsons and that can be good or bad,” she said, noting that it was important to her to plan an event where they would not feel too singled out.

“The picnic is something that, when we had the initial meeting with the Robinsons, there were a few things that they felt comfortable going ahead with doing,” she said.

At the potluck, attendees are encouraged to bring a dish to pass. They should also bring their own non-alcoholic beverages.

Douglas said a line-up of speakers has not been confirmed yet, but there will be an open microphone session for anyone who wants to share comments or a song.

Darla Robinson said that all the attention and support the family has received — from a newspaper ad that ran last weekend denouncing the racial slur to assistance from West Ottawa schools in removing the graffiti — has been overwhelming, but appreciated.

“The whole situation has opened our eyes,” she said. “It really makes you feel like you’re not alone in this.”
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