In an age when racial inequity has been thrust to the forefront, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s annual summit on race and inclusion drew nearly 800 people to its online forum.
“The summit is not just a one-day event. You go and learn and are inspired to consider what you yourself are going to be doing to make the community and your organizations more welcoming,” LEDA Executive Director Gloria Lara says.
The 15th annual summit, titled “Vision and Voices,” included talks on anti-racism, community policing, islamophobia, and inequities in the media and health care, among other topics.
Cultural competency — understanding others’ cultures — requires constant learning, says Ellonda L. Green, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at B Lab, a nonprofit that aims to harness the power of business for positive social change.
Attendees included individuals as well as representatives from cities, public schools, departments of public health, police departments, corporations, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations.
“How can you stand up for people you don’t know anything about?” Green asks.
She and other presenters spoke over Zoom via a virtual conference app called Whova. Green presented the afternoon keynote address on Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (what she calls JEDI work) in business.
“You as a consumer have an opportunity every single day when you swipe your card,” she says.
Conscious consumers can find out whether a business offers a living wage to its employees, operates sustainably, or has a diverse board of directors. She pointed attendees to bcorporation.net, which certifies businesses that agree to meet certain standards.
Everyone, she says, must be invited to the conversation on race. It might be uncomfortable, but that means you are learning.
“We have to lean into uncomfortability,” Green says.
Implicit bias exists in the medical field just like anywhere else, Dr. TaLawnda L. Bragg, an internal medicine hospitalist with Spectrum Health and director at the Spectrum Health Michigan State University Internal Medicine Residency Program, told an afternoon breakout group. According to a 2016 National Institutes of Health study, doctors are twice as likely to underestimate black patients’ pain.
Dr. TaLawnda Bragg
Not everyone who contracts COVID-19, or any disease, starts on equitable footing,
Bragg says. Social determiners of health — such as economic stability, physical environment, education, food access, social network, discrimination, and access to care — can all affect an individual’s health outcomes, according to studies.
These factors can lead to heart disease, obesity, or diabetes — “comorbidity” factors that increase the likelihood of serious illness or death. People of color are more likely to have these factors, she says.
They also comprise a high percentage of essential workers, often live with multiple generations under one roof and, because of the high percentage of poverty among people of color, may not have the same access to health care or insurance.
Top officials speak
The event was bookended by talks from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.
Gilchrist, who is heading up the state task force on race disparities in COVID-19 care, concluded the conference.
“We all have a responsibility to make sure our communities are safe and healthy,” he says. “While it might be difficult to measure racism, we can measure the outcomes that may be connected.”
Michigan is one of the only states to include ethnicity in COVID-19 outcome numbers. Whitmer recently made headlines by requiring implicit bias training in state health worker licensing.
The discussion continues on LEDA’s website
with weekly conversations surrounding race and inclusion.
LEDA has also created a pledge on its website
with the help of Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg, the Diversity Equality and Inclusion Office of Ottawa County, the Holland-Zeeland Area Community Foundation, and Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.
The pledge asks those who sign to commit to seven steps toward equity. The first, Lara says, is the most important: “Educate ourselves on the inequities that racism has created in our communities and our places of work.”
It also asks signatories to commit to examine their own privileges, to listen and be allies to those in need, to acknowledge Black people’s interactions with law enforcement officers, to eliminate racist policies in their own organizations, to build relationships with the Black community, and to speak up whenever they encounter racism.
Read more stories about efforts in Ottawa County to combat racism:
LEDA launches weekly conversations on racial inequalities
How a donor and a bookstore are educating readers in fight against racism
How bebop influenced the civil rights movement
Foundation grants $105,000 to groups focused on racial equity
How I came to take a stand against racism
Seeing Unity Demonstration diversity ‘powerful’ for local youth
Thousands line Unity Bridge, ‘standing together’ for justice
Unity march surpasses expectations