Ottawa County

Momentum Center/task force to kick off racism town halls

The Momentum Center in Grand Haven strives to create a stigma-free society. That includes when it comes to talking about difficult topics such as racism.

“We have a reputation as being able to have difficult conversations,” says Barbara Lee VanHorssen, whose title at the center is Experi-Mentor (executive director).

The Momentum Center has brought together 20 other organizations to form the (Anti) Racism Task Force and will conduct monthly Town Hall Meetings on Race and Racism.

The discussions will inform the (Anti) Racism Task Force’s next initiatives.

Shame-free zone

“We invite people to have honest conversations,” VanHorssen says. “It’s not a debate. It’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong. We need to stay respectful of each other. It’s a shame-free zone.”

She especially hopes to attract people who haven’t been engaged in conversations about racism or haven’t felt comfortable asking questions.

“This is the safe space to ask the questions,” she says.

The town halls will be online via Zoom (register: at 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month. Registrants may submit questions.

Why talk about racism?

The first event, titled “Talking about Racism,” 6:30-8 p.m. Sept. 28, will highlight why it is important to talk about the sensitive subject in the first place.

The panelists will be George Barfield, national consultant and trainer for cultural sensitivity; Deanna Rollfs, cognitive coach and Grand Valley State University co-facilitator for a course on White consciousness; and Angelica Colon, member of the (Anti) Racism Task Force. All three are local residents who will share facts as well as their own stories.

The virtual event will also include breakout sessions.

“Everybody is an equal and valuable participant,” VanHorssen says, something which, she adds, aligns with the center’s grassroots values.

Each event will also include suggested reading or video. For the first event, participants can read “So you want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo to get a better understanding of the topic.

The event will be closed captioned and translators will be available upon request.

Based on feedback from the first event, the taskforce will decide upcoming topics.

Suicide prevention training

The Momentum Center’s core mission is to offer social and recreational activities for teens and adults with mental illness, addictions, and disabilities. Prior to each online town hall, the center will offer suicide prevention training. To register for the training, which will take place 5-6 p.m. Sept. 28, call 616-842-9160.

The nonprofit opened in 2015 and the Momentum Center opened its doors at 714 Columbus Ave., Grand Haven, two years later.

Although the center had to close to members for a while due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it now conducts outdoor gatherings with social distancing and changes are coming to the interior to safely accommodate small gatherings once the weather turns colder.

Read more about the Momentum Center:
Why Momentum Center's approach to improving mental health is working

 One story of recovery: 'She gave me a chance when I didn't think I would get one'
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.