Archive for December 2007

• West Michigan Area Chambers of Commerce Set Strategy to Enhance Cultural Competence Throughout the Region

Strategies for a Culturally Competent RegionThe West Michigan Chamber Coalition (WMCC) has released a commissioned report, “Strategies for a Culturally Competent Region,” outlining a plan of action for the West Michigan community to support and enhance diversity and cultural competency throughout the region.  The report states that:

It is not a question of whether it would be nice or the right thing to do.  West Michigan must continue to mature and broaden its view and its acceptance of businesses, workers and residents of all types.  It is critical for the very survival of West Michigan – for our economy, our quality of life, and our continued success as a region. 

The report is the culmination of a series of focus groups in which participants were asked to explain their understanding of cultural competence and their views on the current state of cultural competence in West Michigan.  The report conclude with specific recommendations to businesses, individuals, government, educators, and faith communities on how to expand our cultural competency.


The report was prompted by a 2006 report issued by Michigan Future, Inc., a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization funded primarily by Michigan foundations to be the source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed in the Information Age.  The report, “A New Agenda for a New Michigan,” concluded that the first strategy is to “build a culture aligned with the flat world.”  The report says that “[i]n a world where economic growth is driven by knowledge and innovation, the most successful regions will be those which highly value: learning . . . an entrepreneurial spirit . . . [and] being welcoming to all.”   The report noted that:

The places that do the best in attracting talent from anywhere on the planet win. As Forbes magazine’s Rick Karlgaard noted, where smart people choose to live, robust economic activity will follow.

Regions need to embrace everyone. We need to be welcoming to immigrants, people from all religions, races, and ethnic groups and varied lifestyles. Leading-edge metropolitan areas are a tapestry of people from all backgrounds. Tolerant attitudes and great diversity characterize successful regions across the country.

The report continues:

We need to develop a culture that unambiguously celebrates diversity and nurtures tolerance. This means both building a culture that condemns rather than tolerates discrimination and segregation, as well as welcoming, with open arms, talented people from outside Michigan.

Leading an economic growth agenda with an emphasis on culture is just as new to us as it probably is to you. It is not where we expected to end up when we began this project. So all of us together will have to learn how communities can change culture.


The joint board of directors of the WMCC, which is a coalition of the Chambers of Commerce from Holland, Grand Rapids Grand Haven/Ferrysburg/Spring Lake and Muskegon, studied and endorsed the report and determined that the WMCC’s major priority for 2007 would be to develop a plan to address the cultural competency of West Michigan.

The WMCC’s “Strategies for a Culturally Competent Region” found that there is work to do for the area to become more culturally competent:

West Michigan is well known and accepted as being beautiful, conservative, and family oriented.  Many of its communities have a comfortable, smalltown feel. However, members of minority communities describe the region as being “nice” but not welcoming, and socially “cliquish”. Increased exposure of new ideas, arts, business innovations and visitors can enhance a small town’s atmosphere and enrich the lives of its citizens. If accepted with an educated, openminded perspective, diversity does not have to threaten the order and security of a community. A sincere and welcoming community will, by definition, work to minimize the isolation that may be felt by newcomers, whether their persons of color or single individuals who are trying to find their way in a family oriented environment.

The WMCC report then lists specific things that it says are the responsibilities of  communities, employers and businesses, units of government, school systems, the faith community, and individuals in West Michigan.  For employers and businesses, these include:

a)   Employers should encourage and require employees to improve their cultural competence awareness and activism. They should allow employee absences and provide funds for education (Institutes for Healing Racism, e.g.).

b)   Employers should promote and support efforts to develop inclusive study or social groups.  

c)   Employers should continue and expand their sponsorship of educational programs.

d)   Business leaders should act as mentors to others, in order to set the example of supporting attendance at educational programs.

e)   Businesses should be aware of, support, and articulate the business case for cultural competence.

f)    In order to maximize recruitment and retention, and minimize counterproductive turnover, businesses must be intentional about diversifying their workforces and supporting community efforts toward cultural competence.

g)   Employers should provide employee education to internalize the concept of cultural competence and to promote harmony and positive working conditions.

h)   Businesses should ensure that their marketing strategies and their product and service lines represent and appeal to a diverse audience and do not neglect any group in the community.

i)    Communications and training programs on development of Supplier Diversity programs should be created and implemented at businesses throughout the region.


In response to the report, the West Michigan Chambers have adopted three strategies for 2008.  The first is to establish a WMCC Diversity Advisory Council made up of persons from government, business, schools, and the faith community.  The Diversity Advisory Council will work to shape and promote the business case for cultural competency in West Michigan and to drive and monitor progress.   The second strategy is for the Chamber to engage with diverse communities to enhance communication, knowledge and trust.  The final strategy is to establish a Multiracial Association of Professionals within in each of the West Michigan Chambers to create a strong network of professionals of all races to help employers welcome, retain and connect professionals of color and their families to their community and the region.

• ¡Café Con Leche! El nueve de enero

Café Con LecheEl nueve de enero, tome un descanso para tomar café con nosotro en ¡Café Con LecheNos reuniremos desde las tres de la tarde hasta las tres y treinta de la tarde en la sala de conferencia Kent.  Acompáñenos a practicar español con otras personas de Warner Norcross & Judd que hablan español.  Solamente una condición:  solo puede hablar en español.  Si se encuentra en una de las otras oficinas, puede acompáñarnos por via de video conferencia.  RSVP a Rodney Martin.

• MAP Mixer January 8, 2008

MAPThe Multiracial Association of Professionals is gathering for its January social mixer on January 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Peninsular Club in Grand Rapids.  The event is free and is open to members and nonmembers alike.  If you would like to attend, you should RSVP by January 7 by faxing the attached MAP Mixer Reservation Form to MAP.

• Ethnic Heritage Festival Features New Museum Exhibit

Here’s a great opportunity to see the new permanent exhibition, Newcomers: The People of This Place for free.  On Saturday, January 19, 2008, the Grand Rapid Public Museum‘s will celebrate the opening of the exhibit during its annual Ethnic Heritage Festival Newcomers is funded in part by a grant from Warner Norcross & Judd. 

The Ethnic Heritage Festival, which runs from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. will feature music, dance, craft demonstrations, food, ethnic organization displays, and ethnic vendors, all representing groups that call West Michigan home.  Fifteen ethnic organizations will perform throughout the day, including the Edelweiss Choir, a Sudanese choir, Alpentraun Alphorngruppe, Pacific Island dancers, Chinese Association dancers, the Shir Shalom choir, the Heinzman School of Irish Dance, and the Batucada Club of Brazilian drummers. Guests will enjoy listening to storytellers and participating in craft demonstrations. A variety of ethnic foods will be available for purchase and visitors over the age of 21 will be able to sample beers from around the world from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. for just $5.

The opening ceremony at 11:45 will be followed by the announcement of the selection for One Book, One County at Noon.  A showcase of traditional and modern ethnic clothing will start at 12:30 p.m.  The event will also feature the public premier of the new Planetarium show, Everyone’s Sky: Star Stories from Around the World. The Ethnic Heritage Festival runs from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Admission to the Museum is free during the festival. 

• More Information on Newcomers Exhibit

Here is some additional information about the new exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum that will be the subject of our next Lunch-and-Learn on Friday, January 11. 

The exhibit, Newcomers: The People of This Place, which opens on January 19, is a 4,000 sq. ft. exhibition that explores, celebrates, and questions the multifaceted past and present of ethnicity and immigration in West Michigan. It will include more than 600 artifacts and images drawn from the Museum’s and other community collections.  A companion exhibit to Anishinabek: The People of This Place which examines the cultural identities of Native Americans in our region, Newcomers looks at the cumulative effect on the community created by the migration and immigration of people from multiple backgrounds over time, from the founding of Grand Rapids to the present.  Newcomers builds upon the Museum’s ties to ethnic communities in a way that is relevant to today’s society. 

Newcomers has been developed with the support and encouragement of the National Endowment for the Humanities in hopes that it can serve as a national model for exhibitions dealing with issues of cultural identity and ethnic diversity in urban communities.  Themes for Newcomers were developed by a team of museum staff, nationally recognized scholars and designers, and local community stakeholders. The list of scholars includes the president of the Immigration Society, the curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, and the editor of the 50-volume Ethnic Michigan series.   Newcomers Advisory Committees included representatives from ethnic heritage societies, local and state diversity curriculum planners, and social agencies devoted to healing racism.   

The Newcomers exhibit presents the stories of individuals and families from many backgrounds according to a series of themes that most have shared on their journey from aliens to Americans. These include Leaving the Homeland, Coming to Grand Rapids, Settling In, Making a Living, Building a Family, Creating Community, Realizing Identity, and finally Creating A New Place.   The exhibit will provide interactive experiences for families and school groups, and corresponding classroom materials will be a part of diversity curriculums used in numerous districts throughout West Michigan.

The exhibition will also be used for corporate diversity training, and serve as a safe meeting place for important community discussions about race, ethnic identity and life in a multi-cultural society.  The Museum has asked Warner Norcross & Judd to work with it in developing the corporate diversity training program.

Admission to the Newcomers exhibit is free during the Museum’s Ethnic Heritage Festival on Saturday, January 19.

• Recommended Reading: A Stronger Kinship

A Stronger KinshipA Stronger Kinship tells an amazing story of post Civil War times in Covert, Michigan.  In this small little town, blacks and whites more than co-existed.  They lived in a community that was remarkably integrated.  The following description is from the companion website to the book: 

A hundred and fifty years ago in the heartland of the United States, amidst a roaring sea of racism and hatred, a community decided that there could be a different America. In this place, schools and churches were completely integrated, blacks and whites intermarried, and power and wealth were shared by both races. In order for this to happen, the citizens of this place had to keep secrets, to break the laws of the outside world, to sweep aside fear and embrace hope.

This, in a region made up of small close-knit communities that were often intolerant, if not outright hostile, to difference. This, in a region where ethnic and racial minorities had to keep to themselves to survive. This, in a time when the rest of the nation slid into the arms of Jim Crow.

This community was Covert, Michigan, and its history is a powerful one. Covert is a testimony to the fact that despite a history filled with violence, hate, and injustice, there was a place where ordinary black and white Americans treated each other as equals and as friends. Covert was not a theoretical utopia; it was a very human community, but A Stronger Kinship is the story of the extraordinary acts of ordinary people.

All Things considered ran a story on Covert, Michigan in December 2006, which you can listen to by clicking here.