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

MR. WILLIAMS

Dear MeanSmith,

People in general usually accept a news story article no matter how long it is, so why would anyone judge the length of a Comment by its length especially when they haven't read a single word of it? When I write a Story, Article, or Comment I base what I write on "Facts, Details, and 1st Hand Experience" whenever possible and try to stay away from,"Belief, Idea, Concept, Theory, and Opinion" all of which are not based on anything but a person's own "Ideas."

MeanSmith

Mr. Williams, I read the article, comments are different. Get to the point son.

Smitty

Nodz..Us Smith's need to stick 2gether. Stop Hatin' Ya'll Snitch #@$@#$@#%@#%@#!

MR. WILLIAMS

Dear WalmartWolverine,

I respect your reply even though I don't agree with your assessment of the Racism issue and after taking into consideration the length of my Comment I have condensed it down to this; "The Racism issue is far much larger than the High School Community with roots much deeper than generations of residents living in the Grand Haven area."

GHJames

My condensed reply is that racism is the same in GH as anywhere else in the world and I am am sad this is how you remember everyone you knew in GH. It is not how I see my world. I have seen real hate against the Roma in Germany and Muslims in Serbia. Most people I know here are good.

WalmartWolverine

Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place? Now it becomes clear to me and I agree with you, what you meant to say what you said when you said it.

My assessment for a solution on this issue is up to the powers to be in the school system. It did, after all, occur on their watch. What could be wrong with that?

Smitty

GRAND HAVEN RULES!! I'm White and Outta Sight. B00-Yah.

dyankee

Mr. Williams, please wipe the koolaide mustache off your face. Good grief, how do you walk around this town with no spine? Rambling pile of nonsense....I want to jab a pencil in my eye to stop the pain of reading your post including, this article. Here we go again, hate your town first, just like the hate America first crowd. Shove Lisa Hall's kid in front a crowd and make them all feel guilty. Shamless Lisa. It seems completely natural to go home after being called a name and speed dial the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office for Civil Rights and file a complaint against a Michigan school district!! What a bunch of lying BS! We all know the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance & Institute for Creating Racism put you up to this and filed the complaint for you with your name on it. Nice Job Paula Kendra (aka) agitator. Right away, we have to rush our kids into a re-education camp called diversity training and indoctrinate them into hating white people and a small conservative / hard working, and highly productive town in West Michigan, called Grand Haven. How does it feel everyone to see your Country decaying right before your very eyes at the hands of the progressive movement? I agree Superintendent Konarska and Principal Wilson, if you can't throw these groups out of your office and handle this behind your closed office doors then, get the hell out of your position(s) because we need leadership right now, not hesitation and/or appeasement.

Boater

Standing Ovation!!!! Excellent, Direct and Truthful.
We have a bunch of weak people running the schools and THIS is what you get.

Smitty

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Remarks advocating illegal or violent actions.

GHJames

I did not grow up in Grand Haven and have lived in three different countries in my life. Racism is everywhere, not just Grand Haven. That said, please don't lose sight of the forrest for the trees. Just as these girls are tormented by racial slurs, I'm sure there are some kids brought to tears by comments about their weight, voice, or any other thing that makes them different a mean spirited person can latch on to. Lets remember how cruel kids and teens can be. Some people that age say the most horrible things they can think of to their peers for a laugh or to make themselves feel superior. Luckily some of them outgrow it.

jvc

Excellent point.

Yaright

The board could lead by example and quit refusing to recognize MLK day as a holiday with no school. This has been brought to their attention numerous times, and each time they refuse. Only to have an "in service" day with no classes 2 days later. It's a consistent and intentional slap in the face. How can they address racism when they publicly practice it??

rainbowjoe

This entire matter is starting to border on silly. It's getting tiresome reading about what a collection of racists we are, and what a dysfunctional community we live in, all because a few high school kids were running their mouths. Identify the boneheads, deal with them, and be done with it. I'm sorry for the young victims, but no one goes through life with a guarantee not to be offended by someone.

enoughisenough

What ever happened to "treat someone how you want to be treated..."!

rukidding

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks.

Wiseone

Wow! How dare you talk about someone like that! You must be a racist! (that was sarcasm!) You addressed the situation well. I was overweight growing up. I was subject to ridicule and harassment all through high school. It isn't a race issue. It is a matter of bullies figuring out what to say to get under your skin and upset you. If my mother, who is white, went to the school board to defend me, also white, there would be no media coverage. If my mother filed a civil lawsuit, she would be laughed at. When did someone saying mean, cruel words to another person become grounds for a lawsuit? I have seen by the interviews and articles that the daughter is quiet and shy. Does her mother really think that putting her out in the spotlight like this is going to help her? She should have taught her daughter to be self confident and not take the bullying. Her mother wants her daughter to be treated equal, yet her mother is making this a race issue!

Smitty

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

Yaright

Ya. Clearly it's her fault. And rape victims encourage it because they wear short skirts.

ruretarded?

itsgettingold

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Profane, obscene, sexual or derogatory language.

AtomicRooster

I've had it up to my ears lobes when the "Race Card" gets thrown out there. It's weak and it's gotten REAL old. I grew up in Muskegon most of my life and had to put up with the "Race Card" being thrown up in my face day in and day out. Reason I moved to GH to get away from that kind BS. Is Grand Haven now going to be the new extension of Muskegon using the "Race Card"? The majority of Blacks use it consistently. And why? Because White people enabled them. The majority of Blacks in Muskegon perpetuate their own oppression. You Grand Havenites make me laugh when you say the area needs Cultural Diversity. Why don't you go live in Muskegon a few weeks and tell me how well you like Cultural Diversity when you get back to GH. I can only bet you will be singing a different tune. You've lived in your sheltered little lives most of you and haven't a clue how the other half lives. Step outside of the box for a change.

Smitty

I'm a drug addict and I Lived in the Heightz for years. Believe me, I loved makin it HOME to GH every nite, God Bless!

Walleyeslayer

Notice that when the Goby moved in, the Perch became more scarce and barely show up for the fourth of July. However, the King Salmon has increased in number and strength. So that's why the Walleye stay upstream and out of the polluted waters outside of the pier heads. Get a life and go fishing!!!!!

AtomicRooster

It's obvious that you have the cranial capacity that of a common caged canary and speaking with someone with low caliber intelligence such as yourself, would be the same as speaking to a sock puppet. In other words, you're about as smart as box of rocks. Have a nice day.

jbvermurlen

This town needs to understand you have to treat all with respect!! No matter color, religion, Income, etc!! I see the clicks in this town and just laugh my butt off that people think they are better than other people because they own this or that. Just remember u could be dying years down the road and this person could be the one to save your life. Would you say no your BLACK or would you say help me. Thank God my mother and father taught me to respect every one, and to this day it is instilled in my kids. We as parents need to be the mentors and role models to break this chain!!!
I pray for the girls. Lift your heads high for standing up for your rights!!! Shame on the kids that did this and there parents for not raising themselves or there kids

whateveridonteven

Can we stop making such a big deal about it? Can we just solve the issue. Punish the students without making the world know about it? Racism happens everywhere you go. To all colours. It happens. It's sickening but it happens. So the school needs to take care of it. It was not "kkk" activity. And I'm sick of this newspaper saying it was. Calm yourselves, gentleman. Get the problem solved and get out of there. Finito. Finished. Done. Problem solved. okay? okay. It's really not a surprise to hear about racism in Grand Haven. It's really not a surprise to hear about bulliying. So stop making such a big deal. Like I've said. Punish the students. And stop making such a big deal. You cannot control the thoughts of others. And you cannot end racism until you stop making a deal about it. If you make the fact that someone is of another race/colour evident then it becomes the focus. If you ignore the fact that they have a different culture or skin colour then there is not racism. You see them for whom they are. And that's there it is. The problem with trying to end racism is that we pay too much attention on this idea that there's a difference between two people with different skin colours. When in fact, there is no difference.

sirhansalot

the students are the ones you are hearing about,,however it starts with the school staff and the example they set. Case in point The girls basketball team dressing like native Americans on the day of there big game last week,remember the student were told during Halloween to be considerate of other cultures when choosing a custom however they decided to play dress up ... there where many faculty members at the game plus a coach who should have spoken up and said something to the girl team but no one did. Here they have a chance to make a stand / difference and they do nothing. This is a continuing problem with grand haven schools

WestMIweather

In all of this turmoil, blame, and upheaval on the current leaders, where is Scott Grimes's accountability? Who is Scott Grimes? The man who was GHHS Principal from 1998-2010, the man who allowed the behaviors everyone is complaining about, the man who is the current Assistant Superintendent of Human Relations of GH Public Schools! What a joke.

AtomicRooster

Here's a reality check for this woman who is making more out of this than what it really is and believe she loves all attention from the media. Although we cannot tell anyone who they can and cannot have a child with she should of known or maybe she was just too ignorant at the time that when you bring a bi-racial child into the world you present two problems to the child itself. One the child usually does not know what race it should patronize, and two, the child will have a hard time being accepted by white or black cultures. So more or less this woman brought this problem on to herself. So now she wants Grand Haven to work off the guilt now. I've seen this happen time and time again while I lived many years in Muskegon. When you cross division lines there is usually a price to pay eventually. And no, I am not a racist as I am sure most short sighted people here will think. But think what you want. The last time I looked it was still America. Freedom of thought is your God given right. Just telling it like it is. Time to wake up Grand Haven.

sirhansalot

spoken like a true KKK member

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