HARRISON: You are needed to help community race relations

Exciting things are happening in our community! There is a movement afoot that is gaining incredible momentum – a movement to create an environment in which people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds find our community to be a warm and welcoming place to visit, to work and to live.
Jul 29, 2014


Let me share with you what is transpiring in our midst.

After multiple incidents of racial hatred over the past few years, members of our community who value diversity and inclusion became prompted to action. These acts did not reflect the core values of most of us — about 85 percent of us, according to research. Rather, these acts of racial bigotry reflected the very opposite of what most of us believe — those core democratic and moral values: equality, fairness and the belief that we are all created with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The values that we hold dear were being trampled on for members of our community and visitors to our region who are non-white. And it was damning to those of us whose core values demand fairness for everyone — irrespective of race, creed or color.

These multiple acts of hate painted our community as a place of white supremacy. Conversations outside our town described it as a place where no person of color would be safe.

Inside our community, most of us struggled to understand how this could be happening — over and over again. And, more importantly, we sought to understand how to stop the insanity of hate overshadowing and defining our town.

Although the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance has been working in multiple capacities in our community for the past 18 years, as an organization we reached individuals, but not structures. We needed a champion to launch interest to a broader level — to engage the leadership to join the grassroots movement on a scale large enough to change the paradigm.

That leader stepped forward and brought with her 34 other community leaders — leaders in business, health, faith, education, government, media and non-profit agencies. These leaders have spent the last year meeting regularly to discuss the complexities of contemporary bias, to dissect strategies for creating community change, and to build capacity for this movement to create a place that truly welcomes people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Work has started. Multiple free workshops are provided throughout the community, thanks to our local community foundation and other supporters, to build understanding of the barriers that limit our best intentions to become inclusive. Extensive efforts are being made in our schools and our county government. Business leaders understand the critical tie between racial inclusion and economic success. Our faith leaders are joining the conversation. Health care leaders identify that new doctors being recruited to this area desire a workplace and community that are inclusive.

So, we crafted the Summit on Race and Inclusion to address critical topics for us to understand. We brought in 10 national speakers to help us understand the complexities of healing the racial divide.

What is unintentional bias and how does that impact race relations? What is the role of white partners in the racial equity movement?

The summit was held in May. Hundreds of you came from the Tri-Cities in an audience of almost 800. Ninety-eight percent of attendees reported that participation in the summit increased their ability to partner in the racial equity movement.

In the spring of 2015, the summit will be held in Grand Haven. This is so very exciting!

But leading up to the summit, we are asking our community members and leaders alike to help us continue the momentum toward change. We are developing action teams of folks — folks just like you — to work on community initiatives to create a more inclusive environment. We are starting a film series; launching a website; seeking students and parents and educators to work on the education team; creating faith, health, business and government initiatives.

We need every one of you who will help us to create this more welcoming place. Join a team to identify the greatest barriers to inclusion and develop strategies to reduce those barriers. We will be there to help. But we cannot accomplish this vision for our community without your help.

I was once invited to participate in an exercise: Share five or six words that describe why you value racial inclusion. Participant examples included:

“Diverse perspectives enrich my life.”
“It’s the right thing to do.” 
“Demographic shifts are changing our workforce.”
“It is critical to our future prosperity.”
“That thing about Love Thy Neighbor.”

What would your answer be? Please join us and together let’s make our visions a reality. We can be reached at 616-846-9074 or by email at nwottawa@ethnicdiversity.org.

Gail Harrison is the executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.



Gee what a great idea,we can be just like Muskegon or Holland,let's sell them the house next door.


Great article! I appreciate the invitation of the community to join in bringing about positive change. Looking forward to the Summit and learning more.


Maybe Gail should welcome 20-30 Illegals into her home..That is what Odumbo wants..


Hey Terible, ghjhs and ruser) (and others to follow) please send in a picture of yourselves to the Tribune so they can post your picture with your post. Then we will know you when we see you. You bring so much to our wonderful community and I am sure most people would like to say something to you.


Great article and so very needed. Ethnic diversity has enriched my life and family in so many ways. There is only one race, the human race, and any way we can help people embrace ethnic diversity I think we should be open to learn.


This isn't about race and if you think it is you're blind. This is about socio-economics and you can argue until the cows come home but your ethnic diversity will likely bring in a lower class on the education and economic scale. This then facilitates all kinds of issues; ask Holland about their gangs, it used to be a great place to raise a family until they embraced ethnic diversity. For every positive you might raise on this issue there are likely two or more negatives. Go spend a few hours in the Muskegon Wal-Mart then go to the Holland Wal-Mart, it doesn’t take a brilliant individual to see the difference between these and the Grand Haven store.


Thank you Ms. Harrison! Please keep this conversation of inclusion going. Looking forward to the Summit in 2015!


Anyone want to bet LEDA isn't working hand in hand with HUD to fundamentally transform the neighborhood?



Great things are happening in our community. Thanks for the work of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.


I'm glad the Summit will be here in Grand Haven next year. Let's hope it will be a catalyst for positive change -- in housing, employment, entertainment, and, yes, even the Coast Guard Festival!


I'm glad the Summit will be here in Grand Haven next year. Let's hope it will be a catalyst for positive change -- in housing, employment, entertainment, and, yes, even the Coast Guard Festival!


Hats off to Ms. Harrison for writing this article and keeping the community up to date about the good things the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is doing!


What do you know, I win my bet. I challenge anyone to read this bureaucratic gobbledygook and figure out that this is really affirmative action for transforming neighborhoods into the racial, ethnic, and class melanges that the liberals, who after all know best, have decided what is in local communities best interests. http://www.regulations.gov/#!doc...

The key - HUD will force their idea of utopia on communities that accept its funding: (Get With the Program, Peasants)

"It is a statutory condition of HUD funding that program participants certify that they will affirmatively further fair housing, which, under the proposed rule, means that that they will take meaningful actions to further the goals identified in an AFH conducted in accordance with the requirements of this rule, and that the program participant will take no action that is materially inconsistent with its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing."

"HUD requires program participants receiving Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME), Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) formula funding to undertake an analysis to identify impediments to fair housing choice within the jurisdiction take appropriate actions to overcome the effects of any impediments, and keep records on such efforts." (Can't forget HOPWA).

And guess who provided a comment on the Rule, applauding it in part and saying it needs to go further - why, it's Gail Harrison, Social Worker, :http://www.regulations.gov/#!doc...

And, is Ms. Harrison a resident of Grand Haven, or does she just play one in the media?

"After multiple incidents of racial hatred over the past few years, members of our community who value diversity and inclusion became prompted to action. These acts did not reflect the core values of most of us — about 85 percent of us, according to research."

2 or 3 incidents of kids' squabbles and a lawn chair suspended from a tree represent "multiple incidents of racial hatred" - give me a break and leave us alone.

Field Reichardt

Great commentary, Gail.

Having lived and worked in a number of different places in the USA, and other countries, I have always found places with diversity in their populations to be much more interesting and stimulating.

The more we understand differences in people, the more we will understand our world... and ourselves.

The USA has 4.4% of the population of an increasingly inter-connected planet. For our future, and for the future of our kids, a better understanding and acceptance of the God-given diversity of mankind is truly important.

It is really exciting to learn of this initiative here.

Good luck to LEDA as you work to broaden and strengthen our community!

(Oh... I am one who believes if you have something to say, you should identify yourself and stand by your words.)


While no one wants to see their idyllic community fall prey to gangs, high crimes, over-crowding, and other societal ills, I think the problem lies in the fact that whenever the issue of diversity comes up, some people immediately think of people of a different race, ethnicity, religion or background from themselves in a negative light, as a blight on their community, and the beginning of the end.

It is the immediate knee-jerk reaction to this biased perception that has to change, and the fear of the "other" replaced with tolerance, understanding, and acceptance. One can hate the idea of gangs in one's community without automatically assigning a race or ethnicity to them. Think of the Irish gangs of NYC, Asian gangs, Russian mafia, Eastern European gangs, and so on. Where do we stop?

Former Grandhavenite

This is a great organization with a worthy goal. The biggest problem for this type of group is always that they're essentially preaching to the choir though. Anyone who cares enough to take the time to attend a workshop on inclusion, or to think up five or six words describing why they value racial inclusion is a person who's probably already well into the top 1% of the community in terms of how much time they spend thinking about these issues, and probably also in the top as far as their view of minorities (racial minorities, at least).

The high school kid scrawling some hateful message on the wall isn't going to decide against it because this group held a forum about the importance of inclusion. The people who most need to hear these messages are generally going to be the least receptive to them and the least likely to hear them. I don't know what the answer to that problem is, but I think it's something worth looking into.


I grew-up in Grand Haven, went to Hope College, lived in Holland for 8 years, and just returned to Grand Haven after a 5 year stint out of state. I now work in Muskegon. Being familiar with the Lakeshore, its diversity, and need for full inclusion; The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is an organization that I can put myself behind. After leaving this area, I couldn't imagine returning if it remained the same. I have been very encouraged by the efforts people are making in the direction of inclusion.

Thank you to Gail and to all of those that are working to make our community more whole.

Dorothy Ahlburg

Gail,thank you for your leadership. Together with the schools, churchs, clubs, businesses and most importantly, each individual home and neighborhood,we can make the Tri-Cities a more welcoming place for ALL. It will take time, but lets all do our part. I grew up in Los Angeles, have lived on both coasts and I have seen the value of inclusion. I hope and pray others will do likewise.

Ann McFall

Count me in! So grateful for the work you are doing. I believe that the more experiences, dialogue, and education we gather, the greater our appreciation and understanding of all the world's people. There are, in any group of people, stellar contributors and those who choose not to add to the good of the community. I am thankful for the people in my life and community of every race, color, and creed. Keep up the good work!


Regarding the comment <<< "The people who most need to hear these messages are generally going to be the least receptive to them and the least likely to hear them. I don't know what the answer to that problem is, but I think it's something worth looking into." >>> I agree, in part, to what was said here... but that is presuming that all of the people who hold racist assumptions are incapable of learning new ways to value differences or would never come to a shocking realization that they were being unfair in their thinking. I think that many in our community have had moments of growth and maturation in which they have changed their thinking, whether it be their value of parties over family, or perhaps their homophobic beliefs which changed after a child revealed his sexuality, or other long held beliefs that were turned upside down by a major life event... We need to recall that those who post on sites like this are usually trying to stir the pot and see what reactions will abound. We can only hope that they too will come to a moment of truth with regard to the way they view race. I find that often, in this town, that change comes through the family circle... a young child bringing home friends whom the family eventually accepts... after the innocent child asks why they would treat the other child differently based on skin color... Or perhaps, an employer mandating some of LEDA's trainings. Commentators like those above, who have very stereotypical ways of thinking, need to find themselves face-to-face with a person who has suffered from systemic or personal acts of racism. Only then will they see the emotion, the pain, and the fact that the person across the table from them has as much humanity as they do. Only then will they speak more respectfully, and view people, of all creeds and colors, with appreciation and love. We need integration and direct exposure, and we need the types of interventions that Gail has been working on since I can remember being in EMBRACE back in high school. (P.S. she is awesome). I applaud and will always support the work that LEDA is doing to try to effect social change in the Grand Haven area. And I am in agreement- we all ought to use our real names and stand behind what we say in these types of forums. Would you go to Meijer and shout these things? I am proud to add a voice to this conversation and name myself, and I hope those that follow will do so as well.

Harry Kovaire

What harm could come from a little "community organizing" for social change?

I applaud all of the politically correct commenters who courageously identify themselves and stand by their words.

"In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell


A couple thousand years into this experiment, and we are still trying to figure out who our "neighbor" is and how to treat them. I welcome any chance we have to turn a "they/them" into an "us". I love your byline and want to be a part of a movement that creates "an environment in which people from all racial and ethnic [and socio-economic] backgrounds find our community to be a warm and welcoming place to visit, to work and to live."


I appreciate the work done and am really looking forward to the summit. This year's was fantastic. Several things I could apply immediately, and Dr. Pastor was a font of information.

Fr. Jared Cramer

Thank you, Gail, for your leadership on this issue in our community. As you have taught me so well, the problem for many is not actual explicit racism but the implicit biases we each bring to the table. It is by learning about them that we are able to engage our fellow humans with greater authenticity, respect, and dignity.

And I would also like to add a note of thanks and encouragement to those commenting who are increasingly choosing to put their names alongside their comments. The Trib can indeed be a place to foster community conversation, and when people do that with their actual names alongside their words (as is the standard expectation in print journalism), the conversation can reach new depths.


Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on GrandHavenTribune.com? Create a new account today to get started.