Written by Ross Yednock, Program Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition
The first time I ever visited Holland, Michigan was in January 1992, on a football recruiting visit to Hope College. At the time, I associated this area with its lack of diversity. This was because I remember that virtually everyone I met that day looked like me, and to this day, that implicit bias on the area’s lack of diversity is what immediately comes to mind when I think of Holland and Hope.
Last week, I attended the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Summit on Race and Inclusion, an annual event held (serendipitously enough) at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. The event dates back to 2001 and began as part of a five-year regional summit on racism series. In 2006, in response to its success, it became a bi-annual event. Now, as an annual and sold-out event, hundreds of people from the region and across the state spend the day engaged with other community members and key stakeholders working to eliminate racial barriers in the lakeshore region. From this event, I had three great takeaways.
- Inclusion is NOT a balancing act where lifting up one vulnerable community or population comes at the expense of another. An example was given of when the City of Seattle changed the way it replaced burnt-out street lights. Prior to the change, some of the predominantly black neighborhoods that were witnessing increasing violent crime were also having burnt-out street lights not being replaced because residents were not calling the city to have them fixed. The change was to begin regularly replacing street light bulbs based-on their expiration dates across the city to decrease areas with non-working lights, especially in neighborhoods experiencing higher crime. While this change helped to keep these neighborhood’s streetlights working, an unexpected result was that residents in the more affluent neighborhoods commended the change because they were tired of calling to report burnt-out street lights. So while the policy was designed to help those residents living in more the neighborhoods more vulnerable to violent crime, all of the city’s residents benefited.
- People seeking to impact positive change need to preach outside of the choir. This is such a simple concept, but one that I think needs highlighting. All too often, as advocates for change and supporters of diversity and racial inclusion, we find ourselves talking to folks who are fellow supporters and champions. Rather, we should focus on those who do not agree or are reticent on the issue and work to change their view on these issues.
- We should work harder to recognize implicit bias and work to prevent it from negatively impacting our efforts to improve our communities and advance our work, regardless of the field. Unlike an explicit bias, which is a conscious level endorsement or refutation of an idea (e.g. I like people who went to Michigan State University, because I went there and I have an open bias toward them), an implicit bias is a bias or judgement that comes from below conscious awareness and without intentional control (e.g. “Holland is not diverse” is a visceral or sub-conscious judgement that is not supported by facts, but rooted in my past experience associated with the judgement). Negative explicit bias is often openly repudiated, but implicit bias all too often seeps into our policies and negatively impacts our work.
This annual event has become one of my favorites, and one I would like to see replicated elsewhere in Michigan. It was my second time attending and just like the first time, I left with some answers to my questions, thoughts to ponder and constructive ideas to help challenge some of the implicit biases that are out there with regard to race and ethnicity. If ever there was a summit that needed to grow, incorporate more communities and include more participants, this would be it.
Did you attend the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Summit on Race and Inclusion? What were your takeaways?