Ottawa County

LEDA launches weekly conversations on racial inequalities

Issuing a statement in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police and the riots across the country that followed wasn’t enough for the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance

After all, the organization was launched 24 years ago to address racial inequality by dismantling the barriers to ensure people of all ethnic backgrounds have equal access and opportunity to participate fully in the life of the community.

“We’re nonpartisan in a way that different groups feel comfortable talking and working with us,” says Executive Director Gloria Lara. “LEDA is a bridge between different peoples, communities, and cultures. What we are trying to do is lower the barrier so different people can engage with each other.”

Lara took the helm of LEDA in September. She is an experienced executive who most recently has led Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore and the Detroit-based Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Personally, the murder of unarmed blacks at the hands of police and others hit home for Lara. Her husband of 35 years, Milton Roye, is African American. 

She knew LEDA’s response needed to spur engagement and learning. She decided to launch a series of weekly Facebook Live events, leading up to the virtual 2020 Summit on Race and Inclusion: Vision & Voices on July 21. Originally planned for May, the summit was canceled along with all group gatherings across the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Fears for family

For the inaugural week, Lara asked the Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom Grier, lead pastor of embracing, at Maple Avenue Ministries in Holland, to join her for the first conversation.


Join us on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, at 2:00 PM when we will talk with Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom Grier about racial injustice. She is the Lead Pastor, Pastor of Embracing at Maple Avenue Ministries, Holland, MI.

Posted by Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance on Monday, June 1, 2020

“Having Denise on was a really, really good start, because everyone in the Holland community wants to hear from her. She is so eloquent,” said Lara. “She’s well-known in the Holland community, and highly respected and regarded. … She says what needs to be said but in such a way that people will take it in and think about it.”

During the nearly hour-long conversation, Grier shares the fears she has for her husband and three children, and that of other black people.

“We got a target on our back because of the blackness,” says Grier, adding, “I want to talk about keeping our sons and daughters alive. That's why I'm on this call, because I know this is the agenda that LEDA has. I'm not saying yes to a lot of invitations. This one was important because I knew that would be a priority here. When I'm talking about keeping us alive, I'm talking about we have to start seeing our children as children. We have to start seeing one another as people and allowing us to express ourselves in the way we do.”

No place to gather

She added that one reason it is difficult for African Americans in Holland is there isn’t a black church or a black cultural center where people can gather. 

“We don't have anywhere to gather if today we needed to just come together and just hold each other. We don't have any place to say, ‘Meet me there.’”

Upwards of 350 joined the live call and contributed more than 225 comments. The conversation remains on the organization’s Facebook page for others to watch. 

“It is my hope that the conversations taking place will help us find common ground and address these inequities,” Lara said.

The weekly conversations are at 2 p.m. every Wednesday on LEDA's Facebook page. Today’s conversation will be with Vanessa Greene, associate dean of students and director of the Center for Diversity & Inclusion at Hope College.

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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