Racism addressed

Lisa Hall handed Grand Haven school board member Mike Cramer a picture of her 15-year-old biracial daughter, Katie Bridgeforth, to pass around to the other trustees as she addressed them. “She has gone through a heck of a year,” Hall said.
Krystle Wagner
Mar 5, 2013

 

Bridgeforth, a freshman at Grand Haven High School, has been at the center of some race-related incidents at the school.

Hall and several other parents spoke out about the incidents at Monday night's school board meeting in Central High School's gym.

The Grand Haven school district is under local and federal investigations following a series of incidents at the high school involving KKK-like apparel and a racial slur written on a school bus window.

In September 2012, Bridgeforth said a student wore a KKK-like mask after school before a fight broke out. Later in the year, Bridgeforth said she and a friend overheard a conversation on a bus ride home in which a girl said the world would be a better place if all African-Americans went back to Africa and all Hispanics went back to Mexico.

After those incidents, Hall filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. In December, the agency launched an investigation into the incidents.

In February, Bridgeforth and her friend were the direct subjects of harassment as they rode the bus home from school. According to Bridgeforth, some male students on the bus said, “Look at those n----s over there. I’ll give you $5 if you (have sex with) one of them.”

Hall told the school board the district has let her down in the way it has handled the incidents.

“There’s no excuse for it,” she said.

Hall said she hoped the school district's staff will become better educated about racism, and programs are set in place for students to come forward and report incidents.

“I want you to feel her pain,” Hall told the board.

School board President Chris Houghtaling thanked Hall for her comments.

Megan Rohn also expressed her frustration to the board regarding the lack of notification when her son, Patrick Gardener, was brought into the school's office and falsely accused of writing a racial slur on the side window of Bus No. 1. Gardner, a freshman, previously said he was accused of writing, “Kill all n-----s.”

After reviewing the bus’ surveillance videos, school officials determined Gardner was innocent.

High school Principal Tracy Wilson said she couldn’t say what was written on the bus because of the open investigations, but it didn’t contain the word “kill.”

Rohn said she felt like the school was failing the students during these situations.

Joni Dunn, the mother of Bridgeforth’s friend who was with her during both bus incidents, told the school board that her daughter has been through more than any child should.

Dunn said she drove her daughter and Bridgeforth to school on Monday because the girls didn't want to ride the bus. When they arrived at the school, both girls put their hoods on like they were ashamed, Dunn said.

“They are girls, not colors,” Dunn said.

Amber Love told the board that her son, Isaac, reported an incident to her and she contacted the school about it. Love said she felt nothing was done and the school failed her son.

“These acts are appalling,” she said.

Love said students need to receive stronger consequences for their actions to learn that their actions follow them.

Paula Kendra, a member of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance Board of Directors, urged the school board to expand beyond training for administrators and optional programs for students. She challenged the board to make it a mandatory aspect of the curriculum for all grades.

On Monday, Wilson e-mailed the school's parents a copy of the announcement she read over the school’s public address system to staff and students that morning. Her announcement addressed current educational aspects the school participates in — including Calling All Colors, Restorative Circles, Capturing Kids Hearts, Anti-Bullying/Bucs Above Bullying, Team GH and Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Institute for Healing Racism.

Wilson also addressed the ongoing investigations, and said the district is cooperating with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and the Office of Civil Rights.

“We do not take any of these types of situations lightly and will continue to uphold our Student Code of Conduct,” she said in her statement.

Andre Daley, associate executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, told the school board that it’s a challenging and complex issue. He said the good news is that the agency is working with the school district to address the issues through educational training and providing students with the resources to speak up.

The bad news, Daley said, is that such incidents still arise. To combat that, Daley said it needs to be looked at beyond the school campus.

“We need to look at the broader community context,” he said.

Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Keith Konarska said he appreciates the community’s input, and it is important for the board and himself to hear their heartfelt and sincere comments.

With the help of the diversity alliance, Konarska said they are bringing the issue to the community for resolution. He said they plan to engage residents through a committee to begin a broader dialogue about expecting tolerance.

“If one child feels harassed or threatened, it’s one child too many,” he said.

Houghtaling said they will continue to educate students and staff about combatting racism, and will do whatever it takes to make sure all children feel comfortable attending school.

“It’s my goal to make sure that happens,” he said.

Comments

truthhurts

bla bla bla

Creed Bratton

Sickening, it's not the teachers or the staff of GHAPS I blame for this, but the parents at home who teach their children to become racist. This is embarrassing for the community as a whole.

Eyeswideopen

Thank You, Creed. Finally someone with common sense. No one is immuned to bullies. It doesn't matter what race you are. How quickly people forgot about the homecoming king last year--- Who was african american.
A quote from a previous african american student that I just spoke to: "I am saddened for what GHAPS is going through. The staff and students were nothing but kind and gracious when I moved to Grand Haven at a young age. Six students making bad choices should not ruin the reputation of a town, I call home."

sirhansalot

It is the schools fault. " The school participates in — including Calling All Colors, Restorative Circles, Capturing Kids Hearts, Anti-Bullying/Bucs Above Bullying, Team GH and Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Institute for Healing Racism. However they never act on the recommendations or do anything to solve the problem. It’s all lip service for the public THEY WOULD NOT HAVE DONE A THING IF IT WAS NOT FOR THE COMPLAINT WITH THE U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
They cover their bases but they do nothing to change anything. How many minorities work for the school?

SignalMaintainer

Exactly. I REALLY hate to drag myself into this, but I have witnessed staff making slurs towards students before. I was out working immediately east of the high school property near the athletic facilities one evening last summer, and heard a coach or other faculty member scream a couple slurs towards an athlete during what I am assuming was a practice of some sort.

The school realizes they are in trouble, and are just trying to cover their bases at this point. If they had reports of this being a common issue, why was nothing done before the $&!@ hit the fan?

It is quite well known that this town has widespread issues with discrimination (especially race and religion/lack of religion).

Unrepresented

Lip service. Maybe we need a new superintendent and principal.

WestMIweather

Unrepresented, the Principal is directed by the Superintendent. Educate yourself. She is a woman; he is a man, an obvious fact. I believe she has children in the district. She is very involved and passionate. Our previous Principal was not. Talk with parents and students in our huge building that have worked with her. Think about how she may have wanted to handle the situation. Think about how she may have been directed to handle the situation. Get involved, be present, and read between the lines.

Unrepresented

In my opinion, both are unqualified to still be school administrators in Grand Haven. They have become products of the path of least resistance in dealing with issues that are controversial. Neither have the people skills it takes to lead our high school out of this embarrassing and authentic problem.

Unrepresented

In my opinion, both are unqualified to still be school administrators in Grand Haven. They have become products of the path of least resistance in dealing with issues that are controversial. Neither have the people skills it takes to lead our high school out of this embarrassing and authentic problem.

rukidding

sirhansalot - It is not the schools fault. It is not the kids fault. It is not the fault of the community, the churches, the NRA, NAACP, or anybody else you want to name. I really have had it up to here (note hand just below the chin moving back and forth) with people who feel the need to place blame so they can feel better about; you guessed it, THEMSELVES. Oh, those terrible people, I don't do that or think like that; I am way better than those people, I do the right thing. BS!

It is very unfortunate that several students have been made to feel like they are not the equals of the majority; this has been going on forever. Pick any minority and they can tell your stories of incidents that will make people feel sorry for them. I can remember members of the elite class being discriminated against because they are successful. I remember girls and boys being picked at because they were to good looking, too athletic, it makes others feel less of themselves and they hate it.

I do feel we all need to be aware of the issue, and work together as caring people to minimize these situations; they will never go completely away regardless how many fingers you point, or organizations and individuals you want to blame.

whateveridonteven

precisely on the nose, Watson. It's disturbing that people are so eager to blame others when in fact it is the person who did it who is to blame.

Eyeswideopen

Thank You. Very well said.
As adults we need to focus on our children. We need to figure out what we can do to make life better and safer for them. Screaming and cutting down each other while on this site, at a PTA meeting or around the dining room table isn't the answer. Sadly, gossiping and belittling someone else is such a huge problem these days.

These are young adults who are expected to grow up way too fast with little knowledge or care about the real world, yet. Their minds don't think like we do. It's ok. They need to be kids. Not that bullying is accepted..far from it but I believe you bully for a reason.

As a society we need to take a hard look around and figure out "together" what is happening to our young people. Not enough attention at home, not skinny, pretty enough, athletic enough, too much pressure at home/school? Lets all slow down..take a deep breath and be there for each other. Arguing isn't the answer..we need compassion for one another and a solution. We're in this together and I don't know anybody that is perfect. Do you?
Smiles, hugs and kindness go a long way. And it's free.

Smitty

KIDS SUCK.

opinionscount

We need "backbone" in the administrative positions. These administrators seem to be a bit too concerned that they are going to offend someone. It's rather simple, administrators: First, you set rules, boundaries, and set the consequences that will follow once they are broken. Next, you follow through with the consequences. Firmly. It's simple. ... No backbone

bunnylou

Totally agree! Follow through! Very sad situation for such a Christian community.

whateveridonteven

excusez-moi , monsieur. This may be a community of many Christians but not everyone is Christian. I do not consider myself apart of any religion. Don't need one. And it rather infuriates me that people say that everyone is Christian. Some people believe other things too.

Smitty

Yah! Catholic's RULE. Rest Ya'll are goin straight to HELL.

BeKindtoOthers

I completely agree. This may be the time to replace the superintendent and principal with professionals who can implement a plan and follow through with it. Grand Haven Schools wouldn't be in this mess if the folks in charge had a "backbone."

WestMIweather

Please see my post above to Unrepresented. If you "know" the administrators so well then you know that Mrs. Wilson was the primary disciplinarian of 2,000 students as an Assistant Principal for 12 years before unanimous approval by the school board to hire her for her current position. You, then, must know her stance on and approach to discipline. If you don't know, ask previous students. She is fair and respectful but the last thing you wanted was to have to go to HER office.

Unrepresented

My experience with Ms. Wilson has been anything BUT fair and respectful.

whateveridonteven

Agreed.

justpondering

I can't understand what all the big humbug is about. What is going on at the school is no different than when we were in school. It doesn’t matter if you’re Caucasian, African American, Mexican, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, nerd, jock, gay or straight; these circumstances have happen before us and will continue. We all know what is socially accepted, there is a school policy, so punish the culprit(s)and move on, and stop making a big humbug about.

rajaju

Exactly , the more they do the deeper they'll go,look at how mlive is covering it

PATTOCAKES

What copy of the email??? I never received an email regarding the announcement and I have 2 kids in the high school. I've asked other parents if they received an email from Wilson and they've all said 'NO'.

wmugrad

I received an email yesterday, if you never signed up to get on the email list than you probably didn't get one. I get emails each week from Mrs Wilson addressing the parents with updates.

vanessaA

I wrote a letter to the superintendent of GHAPS 15 years ago, about dealing with EXACTLY the same crap! They have known about this problem for YEARS.

itsgettingold

Here we go again. The tribune never fails to recycle any story that gets a lot attention. Watch out later in the week for another "Our Views," on the same subject.

MR. WILLIAMS

Where do these kids pick this stuff up from? Look closest to home and you will find the answer staring you right in the face when you meet the parents smiling faces. Oh, don’t be so surprised and shocked! Not much has really changed in regard to racism in the Grand Haven area since I grew up other than it’s a different year. Racism is not something that you decide to do one day or just all of a sudden happens. Racism is a “learned behavior” that takes years of exposure and can become a part of a person’s personality as if it is a natural way of being, like, “well, that’s just a part of the reality of life,” but fortunately it’s not, but it can sure seem that way. Go ahead and ask a person of any age that can’t stand or hates a particular skin tone person not their own skin tone why they hate “those people.” You may find more so than not they have a hard time coming up with an answer, because they don’t remember how they got this way so a very common answer is, “people should stick to their own race” or “races shouldn’t mix with each other,” and even though these are kind of an answer they really are just theories with no basis of fact or foundation and still do not answer the question of, “who first taught you not to like or associate with others of a different skin color”? For most, it starts when they are just a baby growing up with parents who “tell the jokes” with friends that are over playing cards or watching football and it very quickly turns into a competition of who can tell the most of these jokes or who has the latest one nobody has heard yet, and jokes which include famous sports stars or celebrities who are of the particular skin color or race and all the time throughout the years the kids are present soaking it all up like the driest sponges until one day at school around friends the jokes start and those who find no offense become part of the group. However, this is not exclusive to High School kids, because this is much bigger than that and spans across all age groups. The News Media can make it seem as if it’s an “isolated occurrence” and the only ones somehow magically infected out of nowhere are as small number of High School kids. Well, that’s a complete fabrication created by the Media to sensationalize a particular condition, in this case Racism and make it look as if its infected are a certain age group and in this case from Grand Haven High School. I’m here to inform you that this is a lie, it’s just not true and it’s broader based and farther reaching than we can ever imagine. Take for instance, every so often a Politician, Sports star, and Celebrity will make a Racial comment that’s picked up on a hot microphone, TV camera, or someone’s video camera and it instantly goes out over the internet and whoever made the comment later will say, “it was just a tiny slip of the tongue,” or “I was misquoted,” and “I didn’t mean to say that” (when everyone could hear it that is). Because it has become a part of a persons long nurtured fabric they will make these comments in situations they regret, but it’s like they can’t hardly help themselves. It’s like learning anything in life where you are introduced to it at such a young age you can’t remember when it all started and as you grew it became what seemed like a normal thing because my siblings and my parents talked the talk as well as their friends and even local store and business owners, and the cool Teachers and Football and sports coaches, as well as a Cop and Firefighter you know so your world appears to be comfortably filled with people of your same likeness casually conversing in the same realm of Racism.

For whatever reason when I grew up everyone I knew from my parents, my siblings my friends, School Teachers, Scout leaders, all my parents friends, all my friends parents, Cops that were friends of the family, and I really can’t think of anyone who wasn’t Racist when I was growing up as a kid that wasn’t infected. The amazing thing is, that when I went into the world on my own after High School and started traveling and meeting people in different cities I came to realize that all that Racist crap that was continually showing down on me didn’t stick, it was like water rolling off a ducks back. I wasn’t that way and when I’d come back to Grand Haven and visit it seemed as though everyone I came into contact with was still infected with the Racism disease and I found that there was nothing I could do to change anyone, because it was so much a part of them it was like one of their vital organs that had attached itself to every part of their being. So, how do I see people? I see people as if I were blind so I see no skin color; rather I see them for who they truly are, a human being. Within the last decade I have stopped seeing who I considered friends because their continuous Racist comments when we’d be out to coffee, watching TV, at their family gatherings and just hanging around was more than I wanted to be exposed to and it really bothered me to be around them, so I chose not to anymore, but before I disconnected I made it crystal clear why I was ending my association with them which didn’t seem to bother them any, but truthfully, I was a bit sad for a long time after.

Racism is a dirty, nasty, disease that has been infecting humans probably since our existence. Differences of one kind or another have been dividing humans for time immemorial. When it comes to Racism, when that seed is planted early in a life and is nurtured and continues to grow and grow it’s a hard thing to cure. I do believe there is a cure and that antidote can be the realization of who we really are, knowing our True Self which has no color, no race, no attachment to anything in this world other than the fact that exists inside each and every human being living on the face of this earth and the more time you spend with who you really are, the more you can clearly see this world the way it was meant to be seen, through the eyes of innocence and Knowing that which is real.

WalmartWolverine

I have read what you have written at least 3 times, well, maybe 2 times and part of a 3rd, and have come to the conclusion that I have no clue what I tried reading makes any sense. Too many words all at once I guess.

Well anyway, here we go again. This time the people in charge of things in the school system will be put on trial here for their lack of responsibility to sensitive issues. It would be nice for a change for us to remain at a distance while these people have the opportunity to do what they say they are going to do to put in place solution(s) to solve this problem once and for all. Then, and only then, should shooting from the hip become necessary.

MeanSmith

Hahahaha, I agree. I just look at the length of that and dont want to read it. Come on bud.

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