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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gail Harrison is the executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.