How Diversity Forum aims to advance equity in Ottawa County

Ottawa County is gearing up to host its fifth annual Diversity Forum, which will be virtual this year, on Oct. 20, from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. The daylong event is being organized by Ottawa County's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office and Cultural Intelligence Committee, which partnered with the city of Holland. We spoke with Robyn Afrik, Ottawa County’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, about the upcoming Diversity Forum.
The Lakeshore: Against the backdrop of demonstrations and protests calling for social justice in Ottawa County and nationwide, diversity and racial equity are more important than ever to residents. What will this year’s event focus on? 

Robyn Afrik: This year's focus will be "What is the Role of Government in Advancing Racial Equity?" and "Addressing Health Inequities Amid COVID-19 and Beyond." Our planning team begins the planning process for the next year's forum shortly after the last one finishes. When COVID-19 and the incident with George Floyd happened, it caused us all to pivot and take a closer look at what we should be focusing on. 

TL: The forum traditionally draws leaders from the business, government, and nonprofit sectors. How have this annual gathering and subsequent conversations had an impact on Ottawa County in previous years? 

RA: I think that whenever you can invite, engage, and hold conversations with leaders that represent cross sectors of the community (business, government, nonprofit), you have the potential to increase a community's learning and collaboration quotient for greater impact. This gathering also provides transparency around what different sectors are doing, how to better coordinate with each other and find other leaders who are continuing on their journey. A precedent is set on what can be expected when entering into these conversations as well as commitments to build on any previous year's work.

TL: Your planning team had an opportunity to hear from more than 200 residents, past diversity forum participants, and those following the work of the DEI office. How has that helped in planning this year’s event?

RA: It was very important for our diversity planning team to hear from residents and past stakeholders around what was most important this year for the Diversity Forum, specifically during this time. We recognized there are so many more challenges and realities that were compounded and competing for attention, and we did not want to assume the focus should be what may have felt was obvious. When we reviewed the results, looking at the highest categories and subcategories of topics, it was still pretty clear that the areas of focus, offering depth and solutions, was a callout this year.

TL: Tell us about the origin of this gathering. Is the Diversity Forum part of a larger effort by the county to address racial inequity and its impact on public health?

RA: The origin of the Ottawa County Diversity Forums began five years ago with the Cultural Intelligence Committee (CIC). This year marks the fifth annual forum. Last year, the DEI office helped scale the forum, increasing the participation and size. The theme, since 2019, has been Journeys to Equity. The planning committee decided to use this year after year because, the reality is, everyone is on a journey. At the Diversity Forum, we choose to learn and lead together.

TL: How can people participate in the Diversity Forum and the efforts of your office?

RA: Reserve your spot at Diversity Forum by Oct 16. Cost is $25. Registration is required and participation is limited. 

Residents can learn more and do more through DEI by:

1. Taking an inventory of what is actually happening within one's local community or neighborhood first. 
2. Seeing where there are opportunities for engagement or participation.

There are numerous organizations doing this kind of work — and looking for individuals to get involved. These include Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA), Holland Museum, Out on the Lakeshore, Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony (ACEH), Disability Network Lakeshore (DNL) and Hispanic Heritage Festival. These organizations offer training, look for volunteers, sponsorships, memberships, and more. 

Local city governments (Holland and Grand Haven) also have Human Relations Commissions, which often get involved in DEI work and put on various programs, as well as seek out committee members to serve. 

There are endless ways to continue learning, listening, participating, and finding out how to support one own's journey, as well as that of the collective. These opportunities also help support the DEI office, as everyone is working toward making Ottawa County “A Place Where You Belong.”

Have more questions? Reach out to Robyn Afrik at


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.