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Ottawa County tackles racism and the education system

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Momentum Center
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Ottawa County took on the topic of racism and the education system on Monday, marking the area’s fourth virtual town hall over racism this year.

The online series was brought in part with an anti-racism taskforce within the county, which has committed to hosting events throughout the rest of the year and into 2021.

Monday night’s setting welcomed speakers Calvin Terrell, founder of the Social Centric Institute, and Rebecca Bush, the curriculum consultant for the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District. The two panelists gave presentations and responded to questions during a Q&A forum. Afterwards attendees separated into breakout groups for more intimate discussion.

“One of the pieces of the disparities in education is getting people to realize it’s not an inherent thing, that certain populations are inherently less beautiful, less intelligent. It is our habits of the minds and habit of institutions,” Terrell told WGVU prior to the event.

The evening marked a return to West Michigan for Terrell, after facing backlash from parents when he was brought in to lead a presentation against racism at Grand Haven High School in 2018.

“The level of pushback that was in Grand Haven reminded me of the work I did with neo-Nazi groups. There was a lot of rationalization of white supremacy at a level that I had never really witnessed before,” Terrell said.

The virtual series has also faced push-back in the Tri Cities. It’s debut event in September was “zoom bombed,” with individuals taking over the screen to show profanities and racial slurs. Barbara Lee VanHorssen, Executive Director of the Momentum Center, said the situation made the group strengthen its online securty, adding the actions show the need for discussions over racism, diversity and inclusion.

“That bombing certainly demonstrated the fact that racism is alive and well. At the same time, we continue to have a lot of interest in the conversation,” VanHorssen said, “Fortunately, people are signing up that don’t necessarily think going into it that we have a problem and then through those small group conversations, start sharing that they’re understanding things that they didn’t before.”

Monday’s event was part one of a two-part discussion. The latter will take place on January 25 and will include students as panelists.