2008 Racial Intimidation Graffiti Incident - Forum

Members of the panel share stories of discrimination and hate crimes in our community


Almost 100 community members gathered on October 30 for a forum on hate and hate crimes.

A panel of six individuals shared personal and painful experiences of racial intimidation and discrimination.

Roberto Jara, Executive Director of Latin Americans United for Progress, shared numerous names he was called as a child, such as "wetback", "spic" and "beaner." The panelists each also shared acts of hate their children have, and continue to experience. The daughter of Vanessa Green, Director of Multicultural Education at Hope College, was told shortly after moving to Grandville to "go live on the other side of town where the brown people live."

This forum was part of a continuing community response to the August 2008 racial incident in which the word "nigger" and a caricature face was spray painted on the Robinson family's driveway. The response has included a campaign that resulted in almost 3,000 people signing an anti-racism pledge which was published in local newspapers and a Community Unity Picnic attended by hundreds.

In response to the community forum on hate and hate crimes, Avelock and Darla Robinson reflected on how people have rallied to support them, more than two months after the racial incident. "I am glad people are interested in learning how we can change the community together," Darla Robinson said.

Hate crimes, what they are and the consequences, was presented by Mark Bishop from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

Bishop stated he travels the state providing presentations on hate crimes, but he has never seen such a strong community response before. "This gathering is unique," stated Mr. Bishop, "community members have pulled together to address this problem almost two months after the incident."

He continued with, "You had an issue, and people rallied. People pulled together, this is unique."

Nancy Haynes, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, shared that many acts of racial intimidation occur to people of color in their own home – a place where someone should feel most safe. Haynes stated fair housing laws are a progressive movement towards change and a proper outlet to address and report hate crimes.

During question and answer, Panelists Rev. Ron and Lisa James reflected on education: "Children need to see people of color in leadership and educational positions. We need educators to teach our children about the world and its cultures."

Avelock Robinson stuck a cord when he stated, "we recognize we are different, and we want to use that difference to make a positive impact."

In closing, when answering the question "What can we do?" Jara said, "we need allies. When I get fed up and make a scene, I am labeled as 'just an angry Mexican man'. But when someone else takes a stand beside me, people start to listen."