Parents voice concerns about speaker

Krystle Wagner • Mar 6, 2018 at 10:00 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — More than 130 community members, parents and students spoke with Calvin Terrell ahead of his speaking schedule with Grand Haven students and the community.

On Monday night, educator, speaker and community builder Calvin Terrell shared an overview about his presentations that he's slated to give to middle and high school students and the community this week. He also answered questions during the meeting in Grand Haven High School’s Performing Arts Center, which started an hour late after Terrell’s flight from Chicago was delayed.

When the district received concerns and objections about his presentations, Terrell offered to meet with parents and students. Although Monday’s meeting was initially scheduled for Tuesday, Terrell wanted parents to have an opportunity to meet with him before his first presentation.

Terrell, a father of four, said he understands having concerns about the content and images he shares.

Terrell explained that he starts his middle and high school presentations by talking about respect and its meaning. Additionally, he said he speaks about honoring his ancestors and recognizing the land.

Terrell said he’s excited that Grand Haven’s Calling All Colors program students asked him to speak because he often speaks in response to crises.

Terrell said that during his presentations, he talks about prejudice and has students go through scenarios that are aimed at asking them to “think about their thinking.” He said his presentations are also about reflecting on your own actions.

Terrell said that bullying isn’t just about race; it can also be about the way someone talks or looks.

One mother asked about the visualizations included in Terrell’s presentation because she found examples of his work that concerned her.

Since Terrell received negative feedback about a presentation he gave at another school, he said he no longer includes those visuals in school presentations.

Terrell explained he does skits and has children close their eyes to imagine different scenarios — such as if they’ve seen someone shot and if they’ve lost a loved one.

One woman asked Terrell what he says about gun violence.

Terrell said he talks about how if someone yells “fight,” people come running to see, but they don’t have the same reaction if someone was to yell “love.” He said he talks a lot about how to become better people.

“A lot of it is really about the cruelty in humanity,” Terrell said.

One man said he had conversations with his children about Terrell’s visit and whether it would be productive. The man said his children said they are tired of talking about race.

“Why does bullying have to turn into race?” the man asked.

Terrell said that he likes to learn about the types of proactive conversations people have about race. To give an example about race, Terrell said the languages in the Western Hemisphere aren’t indigenous of the lands. And he said privilege has nothing to do with money.

“Race is a construction developed to privilege some and oppose others, and it can be used as a political tool,” he said.

One woman questioned what the school district plans to do to support students who feel guilty after Terrell's presentation. The woman said she’s removed three of her four children from the district.

The Grand Haven school district’s director of technology, Brian Wheeler, said the district would answer the woman's question on the side of the meeting.

Terrell said he doesn't empower students, but instead reminds them to remember their power and how they can use their power.

One woman said she participated in an intensive training as a teacher at a different school district with Terrell. When Terrell spoke with Holland students, there was also controversy there and people raised questions to those posed in Grand Haven, according to the woman. Following Terrell's presentation, the woman said one change among a few they saw were that some “cowards” turned into “warriors.”

“Our kids are more ready for these conversations than we think they are,” she said.

GHHS Principal Tracy Wilson thanked attendees for taking the time to participate. She said two of her three sons will be hearing Terrell's presentations this week.

Wilson said that Terrell isn’t the first diversity speaker the school has brought in. The difference, she said, is that speaker came in for one day and Terrell is in Grand Haven for four days.

Wilson said her role in the building is to make sure all students feel included.

“Every kid in this building does not feel like they belong,” she said.

Wilson said there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

In checking with previous places where Terrell has spoken, Wilson said his record “speaks volumes.”

Cliff Cleland said he attended Monday night’s meeting to learn more about the man scheduled to speak to his grandchildren because he has concerns. After hearing about Terrell’s visit, Cleland looked into Terrell and became concerned after reading the beginning of tweets about white supremacy from Terrell, and about Terrell saying that Thanksgiving was genocide.

To have a balanced message and approach, Cleland said he would like to see the district bring in a conservative speaker.

Shannon Donley and Sherrie Peckman said they attended the meeting to hear from Terrell directly and support the school district.

Peckman said she moved to the area three years ago from a more diverse area, and she's glad the district is bringing in a speaker to help make the schools more accepting of everyone.

Donley said a red flag was raised when parents and students were unable to attend the same event, but she understands the logistics behind trying to find a place large enough to accommodate everyone.

Donley said that since students requested to hear Terrell’s message, adults should listen. She said Terrell was brought in to discuss inclusion and bullying, and bullying can start from a racial divide and lack of intolerance.

“It's an important message for our kids to hear,” she said.

Donley said people need to be tolerant of people with whom they disagree.

Amanda Leigh and Lora Sutton, both teachers at Muskegon Heights Public School Academy, said they have heard Terrell speak twice. Sutton said she doesn't believe Terrell’s presentations are as traumatic as people think.

“It’s so worth it for the kids,” Sutton said.

Leigh added: “I think the community should be open-minded and assume positive intentions of the school, students who asked for him to be here and Calvin himself.”

Terrell will speak at Lakeshore Middle School today. On Wednesday, he will speak with Grand Haven and Central high school students, and staff members will participate in professional development training.

Community members have the chance to hear Terrell speak during the “Violence or Virtue” presentation at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at GHHS’s Performing Arts Center.

On Thursday, about 150 high school students will participate in a training with Terrell aimed at providing them with a plan to carry out his message.

Terrell’s entire $9,000 speaking fee has been covered by sponsors such as the Brooks family, City of Grand Haven, the local Chamber of Commerce, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and its Youth Advisory Council, Health Pointe, Liv Communities, and the Tri-Cities Kiwanis.

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