Insights from LEDA’s 2022 Summit on Race and Inclusion

The arc of the moral universe is said to be long. At the recent Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance 2022 Summit on Race and Inclusion, participants learned how to bend it toward racial equity so they can make a positive difference in their communities.

The 17th annual LEDA Summit’s 15 speakers also put a spotlight on the nation’s ethnic inequities in education, health, law enforcement, government, business, and more.

Here are eight topics addressed during the June 7 summit:

White silence

Many parents teach their children “everyone’s equal” and to celebrate diversity, says Jennifer Harvey, associate provost for campus equity and inclusion at Drake University and author of “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation” and The New York Times bestseller “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in Racially Unjust America.” 

But too often, white parents do not engage in race-conscious, antiracist-committed parenting, says Harvey. 

“White silence has a pervasive, communicable effect on equity and racism,” says Harvey. “I think of white silence as a crisis that is enabling white communities to have profound, massive civic and educational consequences, most significantly, of course, on communities of color.”

It’s vital that parents do not remain passive and voiceless when racism rears its ugly head, adds Harvey.

“Parents who teach children they believe in equality but, when a relative says something racist at a family gathering, these same parents respond with silence, a child gets confused or maybe gets angry, or internalizes the shame. It might be true Uncle Joe might never change his mind, but every time we don’t speak up to Uncle Joe, I undermine my own antiracist development. And young people watching develop white silence, too. We have to interrupt these patterns.”

Financial barriers businesses of color face

Banks still have a tendency to deny loans to entrepreneurs of color — a 16% loan denial rate, almost 42% higher compared to their white peers, according to Eric K. Foster, chair and managing director of Rende Progress Capital and principal of Progress Strategies+, a project management company for corporate, business, and organization clients that specializes in diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility, and public policy and advocacy.

This is a key reason Rende Progress Capital was founded in 2017. The company provides small-business loans and technical assistance to entrepreneurs of color to eliminate the barriers entrenched in West Michigan.

“Entrepreneurship in and of itself is an anti-racial wealth gap tool,” says Foster. “African American entrepreneurs are more likely to move into a higher income group than are African American non-entrepreneurs and even some whites.

“My own conclusion is capitalism is a horrible system, except for every other system,” adds Foster. “Every day, my work is to indict capitalism, be inspired by it, identify its barriers, guard ourselves against the exploitative aspects of it, and maximize its benefits for all.”

Gerald Baraza speaks during the session on Cultural Connections: Amplifying African Voices in West Michigan. He's joined by Christine Mwangi, Dr. Esai Umenei and Myra Umenei. (Hector Salazar)

Banning books

Banning books has been a hot potato of late. The answer is to get involved and avoid the urge to get into an argument with those who have overlooked the fact the U.S. Constitution is on the side of those against prohibiting books in the public sphere. 

“The person who keeps her dignity always wins, my mother said,” says Lance Werner, executive director of the Kent District Library. “The Constitution is clear on this issue. You’re not going to convince somebody who thinks books are bad. It’s not even a legal argument; it’s totally subjective.

“Those arguments tend to devolve and get nasty. Always know that you have the law on your side. It doesn’t matter if you’re a library professional or a professional at all.”

Werner urges people to get in the game.

“Fight for your rights,” he says. “This is a strange time, and people are really threadbare. You can ensure (that books are not banned) by being involved. It’s important that we have that credibility.”

Voting rights and strengthening democracy

Much misinformation continues to swirl around the veracity of the 2020 election results. Barbara Byrum, Ingham County clerk, counters those rampant misstatements by assuring votes are hand-counted and audited countywide. 

“False claims about voting usually boil down to a few people who are instilling doubt and fear in our election process,” says Byrum. “Our system strengthens our democracy.”

Voting in Michigan is a right for those 18 and older who are U.S. citizens. This includes felons who’ve served their time. Now is the time that municipal clerks are hiring election precinct workers. These paid poll workers work the polls all day on election day to ensure voting is conducted fairly and orderly in each precinct, Byrum says.

Students involved in LEDA's Calling All Colors Conference participate in the Summit's session, Youth Voices Matter! ( Hector Salazar)

Deprivation of rights under color of law (DRUCL)

The public witnessed DRUCL with the 2020 murder of George Floyd, when former police Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck on a Minneapolis street corner as the Black man gasped for breath.
 
DRUCL is a federal criminal charge sometimes used against the police and other law enforcement officers when they allegedly use their power to violate another person's rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“Nine minutes is a long time to be on someone’s neck,” says David Porter, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan. “This glazed look of indifference on (Chauvin’s) face while you are hearing the man beg for his life, and literally take his last breath and die. I have yet to meet a law enforcement officer that can look at that situation without saying that’s as bad as it gets. That is clearly evil, clearly a violation of the law.

“Why are color of law investigations important to the FBI?” asks Porter. “It’s a thing called community trust. Yes, we have laws that go back to the formation of this country. They are more than just words on paper. It’s a contract between the people and their government. The vast majority of people who have decided to become law enforcement officers … are good. They’re doing their best to make us safe.”

But when mistakes are made, they must be investigated and addressed, he says.

“We’re a cross-section of humanity,” says Porter. “They’re (police) trying to do good and trying to abide by the law. The vast majority do. There certainly is a minority of those who are not abiding by the law, or they’re trying to use their badge and their gun to ignore the law or be above the law. That poses a problem. That’s why the bureau gets engaged in these difficult manners.” 

Alfredo Hernandez, a Racial Equity Officer with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, speaks at the Summit. (Hector Salazar)

Our country’s preexisting condition

Many people associate India with its caste system, but do not see the United States in the same light, says Isabel Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns” and “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

During a 1959 visit to India, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited a school whose students were among the untouchables. The school’s principal introduced King as a fellow untouchable of the United States. King initially bristled at the comparison.

Then he reconsidered his reaction.

“He thought about 20 million Black people who were held in a fixed place, who were being excluded from the body politic, excluded from being able to vote, excluded from the entire spheres of occupations, excluded where they could live, send their children to school,” says Wilkerson.

“Dr. King came to the recognition about the applicability of an ancient concept very few people connect to our country. Those who are at the very bottom of the caste system in India instantly recognized it when they saw it and they connected their system of hierarchy to our own.”

It’s projected that, in 20 years, white people will be in the minority in the United States, says Wilkerson. That span of time should be used to reimagine what the country can become.

“We have 20 years to get this right,” says Wilkerson. “We have history on our side to understand what potentially could happen if we do not look at this with a sense of this being an opportunity to reimagine who we can be. We imagine a more fair and equitable society. We can build this into the framework of who we are, into our nation.”

Anissa Eddie, author of Talking to Kids About Race: An Introductory Guide to Building Foundations for Racial Equity in Early Childhood, speaks at the Summit. (Hector Salazar)

Talking to kids about race

Research shows talking to kids about race at an early age contributes positively to their identity development and ability to establish antibias perspectives, says Anissa Eddie, research assistant at Michigan State University, early childhood researcher and consultant, and author of “Talking to Kids About Race: An Introductory Guide to Building Foundations for Racial Equity in Early Childhood.”

“Racial equity is when all people get what they need so that race is no longer a predictor of health, education, employment, and other outcomes,” says Eddie. 

“This is intentional action to producing outcomes. To be antiracist is to turn around in the opposite direction. It’s awkward, it’s more work, but it really is what’s required if you’re going to go all the way. Racism is a strong current, and you really have to be intentional to stand against that current.”

Achieving and maintaining workforce diversity

Jason McGhee, principal of Innovation Central High School in Grand Rapids, honed on the shooting deaths of 19 students and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, and the need to find a common language that changes our culture to one of solidarity.

This requires what McGhee calls a “courageous compass.”

“When I go back to my place of work, what am I going to commit myself to? That’s one thing you can ask yourself and you can do,” he says. “The risk assessment is a powerful thing. This idea of self-awareness and authenticity. I love helping leaders lead themselves so they can lead others.

“(This includes) equity audits, a leadership tool that collects the data for removing the problem that impedes full participation, access and opportunity for all students to receive an equitable and excellent education.”

 

Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.