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Council votes 3-2 to sponsor LEDA summit

Alexander Sinn • Feb 5, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Despite concerns that controversial speakers could reopen wounds in the community, the Grand Haven City Council has decided to go ahead and sponsor a summit on diversity and inclusion at a local school.

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s (LEDA) annual Summit on Race and Inclusion will come to Grand Haven High School on June 11, with $1,000 support from the city. On Jan. 21, the City Council voted 3-2 to support it, with Mayor Geri McCaleb and Councilman Dennis Scott opposing the idea.

This year’s summit will cover topics including discrimination and racial inclusion, and will cover tools aimed to make a positive difference in the community and development of concrete plans for “shaping a prosperous, inclusive future,” LEDA says.

McCaleb referred to Calvin Terrell, a speaker whom the city’s Human Relations Commission brought to local middle and high school students in 2018. Some parents were concerned about the speaker’s activity on social media, which was not a feature in his talks with students. His talks relayed an anti-bullying message and promoted inclusivity and wellness in schools.

LEDA was not involved in bringing Terrell to the school district last year.

“We’re blindly in good faith saying we’re going to sponsor this,” the mayor said. “I don’t want to get caught in the position we were in the last time.”

McCaleb said the council should not “get in the habit” of providing funds to commissions, which are typically responsible for their own fundraising. 

Councilman Josh Brugger noted the event is not bringing the same speaker, but will instead feature a variety of speakers and perspectives. Councilmen Bob Monetza and Michael Fritz agreed the summit would bring a multitude of perspectives to the community.

Louann Werksma, chairwoman of the Grand Haven Human Relations Commission, said Terrell’s talks last year opened up dialogues for students in the Grand Haven district.

“It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever attended,” she said. “It was a very powerful time.”

The backlash to Terrell, who describes himself as an “equity coach,” was a result of people anticipating what he was going to say, Werksma said, rather than to the content he shared in his talks. 

“We’re very grateful that council went forward with it,” Werksma said. “I can understand their reluctance after all of this backlash that happened.”

Students in LEDA’s youth organization, Calling All Colors (CAC), organized the event with Terrell. Chloe Weigel, a senior and CAC leader at Grand Haven High School who helps plan events, said Terrell’s message led to the creation of discussion on issues related to inclusion and diversity, which wasn’t happening prior to his visit.

“That conversation wasn’t really being had,” Weigel said. “We’re trying to continue that message this year.”

Weigel attended a LEDA summit in 2018, which she said was an opportunity to form discussions between students and adults. With the event held at the high school, she said she hopes more students beyond those in CAC will participate.

“As a high school student, I didn’t know a lot of people,” she said. “I broke outside of my comfort zone. I’m excited to go back again and learn something new.”

Details about the summit, including speakers, are yet to be announced. 

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