'It's unacceptable'

Parents and community members expressed frustration and sought answers about race-related incidents at Grand Haven High School during a sparsely attended forum at the school Tuesday night.
Krystle Wagner
Mar 27, 2013


About 40 parents, other members of the community and school district staff attended the forum led by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.

The high school is being investigated by local agencies and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights following incidents involving KKK-like apparel and a racial slur written on a school bus.

To read what we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the racism investigation, CLICK HERE.

During the forum, Grand Haven senior Hannah Hughes questioned why programs addressing racism didn’t start sooner. She said she first heard about the incidents more than five months ago.

Since news broke of the ongoing investigations, Hughes said she has become sickened by the responses of peers who have become fixated on being associated with racial incidents.

“I don’t even want to tell people this is my school,” said Hughes, 18.

The incidents infuriated Grand Haven resident Vicki Lynn Nelson. She demanded to know why they continued for four or five months before the community became informed. Nelson said actions weren’t taken quickly enough and questioned if that’s what her tax dollars went toward.

“I’m so stunned,” she said with anger in her voice. “Why has this gone on for months? Why is this auditorium so empty?”

As community members expressed concerns about programming and ongoing efforts to promote positive behavior, Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Keith Konarska said the district is working with the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance to create additional programming.

Embrace is a program recently formed as a joint effort for the community to join together over the issue.

“It’s time for everyone to stand up and be part of a solution,” Konarska said.

Tammie Hughes, a mother of children in Grand Haven schools, said the issue needs to spread beyond the high school because the hatred is learned somewhere. The Grand Haven resident called for administrators to hand out stiffer punishments because students should learn their mouths are weapons — just like guns or knives.

“It’s unacceptable for anybody to be treated this way,” Hughes said.

Lisa Hall, mother of biracial student Katie Bridgeforth who was harassed on a school bus, said she has been touched by the community’s support. However, Hall said the district needs to “step up to the plate” and take action.

Hall also called for strict punishment for the perpetrators.

“The psychological damage to my daughter will never go away,” she said.

While some parents said they want more action from the school district, Brian Wheeler, a contracted technology employee for Grand Haven schools, said it will take more than the school to make a change.

Wheeler, who lives in Muskegon, said there’s a deep reason he hasn’t moved into the Grand Haven community, although he has worked for the school system for more than a dozen years. Wheeler said he has two sons enrolled in the district, and his heart goes out to the parents and families going through the incidents, as he understands the importance of having his children feel safe.

Although Wheeler said there’s room for improvement in the district, it goes beyond the walls to make a difference.

“It’s going to take a community,” he said.



right on


Having grown up in Grand Haven and attended Grand Haven Schools throughout all of my grade school years I do have to agree that this issue seems like it has been blown out of proportion. No matter where you go incidents like this will happen. It isn't always Caucasians saying negative things about other races, I graduated from Grand Haven three short years ago and never heard one white person say anything negative about any other race while I was there. However I did hear plenty coming from the other way around. People just need to stop making Grand Haven out to be a city full of white racists, when in all reality the entire issue stems from a couple of kids that don't know how to respect others and need to be taught a little better. No one I know in this city has an issue with any other person because of race, punish those involved with the issue and get on with things, Grand Haven is in no way a bad city.


If anyone sees any student verbally assaulting any other student, jump in to their defense and beat the crap out of them. Same goes to parents.


Really!?! You are pathetic.


I have a question what would you guys do as a parent if your child came to you and said someone said something to me about my race? or mom today I was bullied and they teased me? You would be FURIOUS.Like the girls said its not all about racism its about being bullied no one deserves to be bullied. Bullying hurts. Grand Haven is a Beautiful and I love it here. The school is a great place to graduate from and has a great education system. BUT the way they are handling this problem is not okay. If it Was your kid you would want the kids suspend for a long time. yes there has been many ARTICLES about this. At the high school they have Bucs Above Bullying is it working? No one deserves to wake up in the morning and not want to go to school because they are afraid they are going to get bullied or get beat up. Its NOT right Its not all about Racism. Its About Bullying. We have to work as a community to make grand haven the best it can be making bad comments is not going to help. Lets Work Together(:


Its official, more comments here then the number of people that attended the meeting! Hmmm, oh well at least the Trib will be happy they beat this to death.

Golden Rule is what needs to be applied here people.


So you are surprised that only 40 people went the meeting. It is the same reason why Grand Haven has such a problem is because the white majority sees no problem. Read the remarks people are leaving,


People are funny

sirhansalot what's next? Should we not put the cross up on the hill because of what it has represented in the past or just an all out lynching of all white people in GH. I think someone has a little guilt. Maybe drop a few N bombs in your life and trying to redeem yourself. If you hate our city so much because of a few troubled children who weren't taught diversity in their life maybe you should (I also hate the term) "move to Muskegon. Your hate for white people in our city is as disturbing as these few troubled teens.


People are funny….First and foremost, Why should I have to look at a cross on Dewey hill that does not represent my beliefs just yours? Are you ok with me taking down your cross and replacing it with what is in line with my beliefs? I have no hatred toward white people. I just have very little belief that this community is willing to stop looking at the trees and few the forest. There is a lot more to the picture then just kids acting out at school.. there is a lack of diversity in the school staff/ teacher/ and administration. If you go downtown there are very few people of diversity working in the restaurants or bars. Grand haven is not a welcoming place for a person that is not white.......


I agree, sirhansalot. I realize it's human nature to want to minimize the problem to just a few bad kids acting out and a mother seeking publicity. But those kids got their racist attitudes from someone, and most likely the adults in their lives.

I love this area, but let's face it, racism takes on many forms and can be found to some degree in all communities and, as hard as it may be to admit, in all of us. Some people embrace the lack of diversity here, pointing to neighboring, more diverse areas that have more gang, drug, and gun violence-related problems. They equate more diversity with more crime. But racism and intolerance can be subversive- it can be quietly and subtly exhibited through attitudes, opinions, and words on the full spectrum of social, religious, racial, and political arenas.

The health of a community can be determined by whether our community leaders recognize and address the problems as they come up. Publicizing and exposing the problems, such as the reporting in the Trib, and sharing opinions, such as these posts, are the first steps towards understanding. Racism needs, and breeds in, darkness - shining light on it is the first step towards minimizing it.


A couple responses to some general comments in response to the racial issues:

"This happens all over the place... there is always bullying...what about white kids..."
Yes, prejudice, discrimination, and bullying is something that crosses all sorts of boundaries, but this does not mean that we should not begin to have a meaningful dialogue about the issues and potential issues in our community. We should be open minded enough to consider if our community may give off an unwelcome vibe to those who are not white (I'm sure there are other things we could focus on too).

"Grand Haven is a great place! Be thankful!"
Yes, the Tri-Cities area is blessed and an awesome place to live! However, this doesn't mean our community may have issues that need to be brought up. Could we have "blind-spots"? Because this place is so great we should continue to work hard to make it even better. Also, because the area is so wonderful we would expect more people of diverse ethnic backgrounds putting down roots here. Yet, this area looks vastly different than the surrounding areas in Ottawa County. Which makes me wonder if there could be something unseen and worth exploring.

"This is being blown way out of proportion!"
This minimizes the effect of this issue to those who have gone through the pain and it sends a message that our community is unwilling to work toward welcoming a diverse group of people. What may not seem like a big deal to one person, is an enormous deal for another person. Therefore, I would hope that we would consider others and their feelings and seek to make things right for people who feel marginalized (even when we don't see it or experience it ourselves).

"None of this talking helps. These forums are a waste of time."
We will continue to get the same results if we keep doing the same thing. I believe that our community needs to have a meaningful, honest, and civil discussion regarding race and other issues. Communication does help create more awareness and understanding. It is a starting point.

It is because I love our community that I desire for us to talk about these issues and seek to grow. My hope is that we would truly be a grand "haven" for all sorts of folks.


Very well said, HavenDude - pretty much sums it up. Thanks for a heartfelt, common sense approach.


I grew up in Grand Haven, went to Grand Haven Christian for nine years, met my beautiful Korean Wife at Calvin College, and lived in Grand Rapids for almost 20 years before moving back to Grand Haven to start a family. According to some people, this isn't even possible...

Growing up in Grand Haven I VERY seldom saw or interacted with anyone other than "white people", most of whom were of Dutch heritage. Today our community is no where near as diverse as, say Ann Arbor, but it has changed. I have four sons going to Grand Haven Public Schools and participating in local sports like soccer, football, baseball, etc. I see diversity. Yes, there are blonde kids running everywhere, but my dark-haired kids don't stand out like they may have 20 or 30 years ago. The very fact that we are dealing with this issue is a statement as to the changes that have taken place; without at least some diversity, there can be no conversation.

I love our community; it may not be perfect, but it is a special place to live. And I choose to live here for many reasons, the lake being only one of them. Let's continue to grow, learn, and accept the differences that make us all unique. I believe and hope that by the time my kids have kids of their own, perhaps even more ethnically diverse than they themselves are, that some of them will also choose to live here in this wonderful community called Grand Haven.

People are funny

I am half Filipino and I have been asked if I am of Spanish descent in our wonderful city but never heard anything hurtful or hateful. I have raised three wonderful "white" children that don't have a racist bone in their body. I would love to say my wife and I could take full credit for that but, we can't be there 24 hours a day. two of them have gone through our wonderful school system and one is still in high school. I have to give huge credit to Grand Haven teachers, administrators, and the community in general for helping my children turn out to be the wonder adults they are.




Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc..


Wow, maybe you should take off your pointy white hat when typing so you can see the keyboard better.....

Stay classy.



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