Task force to tackle racism and the media at next town hall meeting

The (Anti)Racism Task Force will present its next event, “Town Hall Meeting: Racism and the Media,” with additional safety precautions after the series’ kickoff event was hijacked by a racist cyberattack.

The upcoming event will be 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, via Zoom. To register, visit momentumcentergh.org/town-hall-racism.

The first half of the meeting will include presentations from panelists C.E. Sikkenga, a Grand Haven High School teacher of 29 years; Kylie Ambu, a WZZM 13 news anchor and Diversity and Inclusion Task Force member; and Sarah Leach, the executive editor of The Holland Sentinel.

The second half of the meeting will include a  question-and-answer session and community conversation. The Zoom app is required for breakout sessions.

‘A powerful influence’

“The media has such a powerful influence on us as it shapes the stories we hear, the images we see,” says Barbara Lee VanHorssen, experi-mentor (executive director) at The Momentum Center for Social Engagement.

Last month’s attack on the Town Hall Meeting on Race and Racism served as a powerful illustration of why they need to proceed with these conversations, VanHorssen says.

“We are putting a number of protections in place that will still allow us to use the format that makes our Town Halls the unique grassroots conversations that they are,” she says. “We look forward to a productive and respectful conversation!”

IT experts standing by

The (Anti)Racism Task Force and Momentum Center will have two IT experts concentrating exclusively on security so if someone does act inappropriately they can be identified and removed quickly.

“We are proceeding as if we know we will be hacked so that we can be proactive,” VanHorssen says.

News outlets such as WZZM, WOOD-TV, WHTC, the Grand Haven Tribune, and The Lakeshore helped share that experience and raise awareness.  

“This Town Hall will help us explore the ways in which the media reports on and responds to matters of race and racism and the impact that those decisions have on the community they serve,” VanHorssen says.

Sikkenga has been an educator for 29 years at Grand Haven High School. He has advised the high school’s award-winning student publication, The Bucs Blade, since 2000. Sikkenga is a past-president of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association, and he has served as that organization's Newspaper Chair since 2012. He’s also served on numerous state and national committees for projects related to scholastic journalism.

Ambu has worked as an on-air personality for two-and-half years at WZZM 13 and is on the station’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. .

As an Asian-American woman in the media industry, Ambu says she’s always felt a responsibility to understand the way media and representation can alter perceptions of areas such as race, gender, and sexual identity.. 

“Growing up I rarely saw someone who looked like me on the screen, which definitely played a part in some insecurities that came along with pursuing this work,” Ambu says. “Now that I’m one of the reporters actively putting people on TV, my eyes have opened even wider to the disparities in coverage that our society and industry faces, specifically in our Black and Brown communities.”

Journalists have a responsibility to examine the system factors that play into coverage of diverse communities and to cultivate trust, she says.

Leach, executive editor of The Holland Sentinel and Ionia Sentinel-Standard, has worked as a reporter, copy editor, page designer and managing editor for 20 years for companies that include Advance Newspapers, Paxton Media Group, GateHouse Media and currently Gannett. She also serves on the student media advisory boards for Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.

Mosaic Counseling will provide QPR training (suicide prevention) 5-6 p.m. prior to the Town Hall Meeting. To pre-register for the training, call 616-842-9160.