Kalamazoo Summit on Racism 2016: Understanding Racial Equity; Transforming Our Community

On Friday, November 18, the Racial Healing Initiative of the Society for History and Racial Equity (SHARE) will offer the annual 2016 Summit on Racism. The event will be held at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m and will be an opportunity for participants to engage in sessions and networking around issues of racial inequity and discovering methods of creating a more just and inclusive community.

Donna Odom, SHARE Executive Director, says she hopes participants in the Racial Healing Initiative of the Society for History and Racial Equity (SHARE) annual 2016 Summit on Racism will, through the summit, go deeper in an understanding of racial equity, see the progress that has been made in some organizations, and to learn how communities of color can affect change by taking control of their own narratives.

The original Summit was inspired by Grand Rapid’s first Summit on Racism, organized by the Racism Justice Institute of Grand Rapids Area Center Ecumenism that took place April 16, 1999, says Odom.

Next the City of Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and the YWCA of Kalamazoo collaborated to produce the first leadership conferences on Jan. 30 and June 7, 2004, in preparation for Kalamazoo’s first Summit on Racism, which took place Sept. 30, 2004. 

That Summit brought together more than 200 community residents and leaders at the Fetzer Center at WMU. Out of these meetings came important outcomes, including an organizational structure promoting collaboration for action around four key areas: education, employment, housing, and health. SHARE took over sponsorship of the Summits in 2013. 

This year's Summit reached registration capacity quite early. Last year, around 180 people participated in the Summit; this year, 300 are registered. 

Odom says that SHARE has picked up a following through their monthly community discussions on race, which may have contributed to the early and high numbers of registrants. Additionally, she says, “We've seen from attendance at our other events that people really want to talk about race and have a desire to become more involved.”

Following past events, SHARE collected responses from participants that stated desires to be more involved. Some comments from previous events were: 

“Thinking this may be a lifetime commitment.”

“More determined than ever to continue my own education and find the courage to be more present in the world of anti-racism work.”

“Makes me realize I SHOULDN’T be comfortable, I should be UNCOMFORTABLE with the feelings another person had interacting with me.I enjoy the wise and open comments and think we shouldn’t be looking for comfort but hope we will find friendship and hope together.”

“Every time I think I have a really good understanding on issues of race, I learn yet more aspects that make me understand how little I really know and lead me to want to learn and know SO much more!”

“Honest sharing of our personal stories in small groups … leads to deeper understanding of each other, empathy, willingness to engage in the hard work of trying to effect change where we can.”

“I came here b/c (because) I was losing hope. My hope has been restored with fire.”
Odom says  that 90 percent of the summit is based on local examples and opportunities for people to be involved. “The panel on racial equity and racial disparities not only includes reports on racial equity in general,” she says, “but will include local examples and statistics as well.” 

The opening panel will feature emerging leaders active in social justice in Kalamazoo, the youth panel will include Kalamazoo youth discussing their interests and aspirations, and the workshop on building White/People of Color allies will deal with what people can do right here in our community. Models of Progress will feature representatives from organizations in Kalamazoo who have begun work in achieving racial equity. The networking lunch will give people an opportunity to connect and explore possibilities for collaboration.

The goals of the summit are to educate the community on issues of racial inequity, to share testimonials from current activists and organizations, and to provide inspiration for self-empowerment.

“We hope attendees will walk away with a deeper knowledge of what we mean by racial equity, what individuals and organizations in the community are working towards a more inclusive community, and a desire to become involved and a knowledge of how to do so” says Odom.

The Summit is geared toward everyone, no matter where they are in their understanding of race and racism. “We've tried to provide for the full spectrum by giving people information on how they can take their first steps towards becoming more informed to hopefully educating those already well-informed on ways they can channel their expertise and enthusiasm,” says Odom.

While registration is closed for this event, you can stay up to date on SHARE's upcoming events by following them on Facebook and by visiting their website.

Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer, living in Kalamazoo. You can find her at her website, kathivaleii.com.
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