Affirmative action, the economic case for workplace diversity, and successful West Michigan programs to break down racial barriers will be the focus of the fourth annual Ottawa Area Summit on Racism, which will be held at Hope College on Saturday, March 20.

Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA), sponsor of the Summit, said: "The keynote addresses will focus on extremely timely issues. Affirmative action may be on the ballot in Michigan as a constitutional amendment, and we know that economic development and the health of local businesses is crucial to local communities and workers, especially in a time when so many jobs are leaving West Michigan. We are also excited about the 'best practices' workshops, where people will be talking about what has worked in their business, community, education, faith, government, and health care organizations."

It is the first time that the Summit, the fourth in a five-year process, will be held on a Saturday. Harrison said the Saturday date was chosen to give more people the opportunity to attend the Summit.

Twenty Ottawa area churches and organizations are collaborating in this year's Summit. Harrison said, "Having so many groups support the Summit makes an important statement. There are many people in West Michigan who truly want communities where all are welcomed, respected, and included in all parts of local life."

Dr. Paul N. Courant, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, will speak in the morning on "Crossing the Boundaries of Race in America: The Role of Affirmative Action." Dr. Courant was part of the university's team that worked on recent admissions lawsuits that ultimately were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

In the afternoon, Sylvester Murray, professor of urban studies and director of the Urban Center's Public Management Program at Cleveland State University in Ohio, will discuss "Racial Polarization: An Impediment to Economic Development." He will consider the questions: Can West Michigan thrive economically without embracing its diversity? Do economic development and social equity work in tandem?

In six morning workshops on business, community, education, faith communities, government, and health care, leaders of area organizations will share their best practices for building inclusive systems, talking about their programs, obstacles, and successes along the way.

The workshops are:

Business - "Retention: Preparing for a Diverse Workforce," by Cascade Engineering chair and CEO Fred Keller and Cascade's human resources manager, Ron Jimmerson. Cascade has received international recognition for its business strategy that comprises financial returns, environmental performance, and social impact.

Community - "Community Organizing for Racial Inclusion," led by Rev. David May, director of the Grand Rapids Racial Justice Institute and designer of the Summit on Racism model, and "Expanding Housing Opportunities," by Lee Nelson Weber, former director of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids for 15 years.

Education - "The Minority Student Achievement Network," by Rossi Ray Taylor. The Network is a national coalition of multiracial school districts that are studying disparities in achievement between white students and student of color. The Network also works to develop and implement the means to ensure high academic achievement of minority students.

Faith Communities - "Framework for Promoting Unity without Uniformity," led by Father Stephen Dudek, formerly of St. Francis de Sales Church, and Reverend Andres Fierro, pastor of Crossroad Chapel. The two will share steps for building unity in faith communities "without compromising the richness of culture and diversity."

Government - "Systemic Change: A Multifaceted Approach," by Harry Dolan, chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department, who will share the motivation, steps, successes, pitfalls, and results of the department's efforts to increase the cultural awareness of the police force, improve staff diversity, and collect traffic stop data.

Health Care - "Diversity in the Workplace," led by Wayne Boatwright, chief diversity officer at Saint Mary's Mercy Medical Center and Battle Creek Health Systems. He has implemented diversity training, increased the number of minority vendors, and improved hiring and retention of diverse employees. His goal is health systems that successfully serve patients from all backgrounds, encourage the growth of all employees, and celebrate the communities' diversity.

In the afternoon, Summit participants will use the morning workshop information to help design strategies for building more inclusive organizations and systems in the Ottawa area. A resource center of books and materials will be in the Maas Center on campus over the lunch hour.

Registration is now open. The cost is $20 if lunch is included, or $10 without lunch. Registration and payment can be accomplishedonline or by mail to LEDA at 287 Lincoln Ave., Holland, MI 49423. The deadline for registrations is Friday, March 12.

Additional information may be obtained by calling Gail Harrison at (616) 846-9074 or via e-mail at: