Street Talk: Racism does happen here


Prominent antiracist writer and educator Tim Wise visited Grand Rapids recently as part of the annual LINC UP Community Spirit Awards.

Wise has been working in the area of antiracism since his days at Tulane University in the 1980s. He has written six books to date on racial equity, including his 2015 work, “Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America.”

Wise included several remarks about systemic racism within the employment and education sectors during his Grand Rapids talk, noting how people of color and the white community are impacted differently in terms of outcomes.

“You don’t have to have a single racist in the room for racism to occur,” he said.

Wise noted inequities would continue as long as members of the dominant group are complacent about their privilege.

“Members of the dominant group don’t have to do one thing intentionally for oppression to be maintained,” he said.

He specifically talked about how current hiring practices and professional and personal networks impact people of color differently than white people, pointing to a New York Times article that reported, “Seventy percent of people getting jobs through connections are white.”

He noted the difference has a lot to do with how people make influential connections in the first place, and said one of the key ways people learn about new opportunities and score interviews today comes from who they know.

Wise’s talk couldn’t have been better timed, unfortunately.

Less than two weeks after his visit, online publication 24/7 Wall St. published a list of The Worst Cities for Black Americans, all of which are in the Midwest.

Grand Rapids landed at No. 5.

The publication noted, “The typical black household in Grand Rapids earns $25,495 annually, less than half of the $57,186 the typical white household earns and also about $10,000 less than the $35,481 the typical American black household earns in a year.”

Anyone tempted to brush off Wise’s talk with a “that doesn’t happen here” might want to take a deeper look at the numbers.

Banana pudding diplomacy

Apparently, banana pudding is enough to draw a massive Chinese investment to a town.

Sheldon Day, mayor of Thomasville, Alabama, made reference during the 9th Annual China Town Hall teleconference to the tasty banana pudding cooked up by his small town as a treat for representatives from a Chinese copper tubing company looking to make a $100 million investment.

Many in attendance at the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan’s screening of the teleconference chuckled, including guest of honor Henry Levine and Executive Director Dixie Anderson.

While joking, Day was serious about making a community connection with foreign investors because they are choosing the location as a home as well as a place of business.

Moderator and National Committee on U.S.-China Relations President Stephen Orlins said many questions came in regarding the recipe for the banana pudding.

Alas, time was up and the recipe wasn’t revealed.

Going up

Needless to say, David Frey is proud of his involvement with Grand Action and all it has done in more than two decades of working to  improve downtown Grand Rapids with projects such as Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and Downtown Market.

But Frey knows his work and that of his co-chairs, Dick DeVos and John Canepa, is far from finished.

While discussing the impact of those projects, Frey was adamant the city needs more height and density, suggesting several more mid- to high-rise buildings are needed in Grand Rapids.

The location he mentioned first was the U.S. Post Office on Michigan Street, which has been the center of discussion before. He also mentioned the acres of parking lots behind Grand Action’s first project, Van Andel Arena.

In Frey’s mind, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Screen savers

With all the cyber changes happening these days, there needs to be a place for West Michigan businesses to learn and talk about security measures.

Trivalent Group, the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan and the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium are teaming up to host the 2nd Annual Grand Rapids Cyber Security Conference, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Oct. 21, at GVSU’s Eberhard Center, 301 W Fulton St., Grand Rapids. Registration is available at

“As soon as we think we know how to protect our data, resources and identities, a new way to attack, steal or use them appears,” said Larry Andrus, CEO of Trivalent Group. “The Grand Rapids Cyber Security Conference is designed to help participants assess risk, build a plan and respond effectively to a cyber security attack.”

Federal Trade Commission attorney Christopher Panek will give the keynote address, “The Importance of Having a Plan to Prepare for, Avoid and Respond to Breaches and Intrusions.”

The conference also will include a dozen 45-minute sessions with various IT experts.

The roster of speakers includes: Abraham Jones of Spectrum Health on Microsoft’s EMET; Jennifer Puplava of Mika Meyers on legal considerations; Barb Hiemstra of the Kent County/West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium on developing a security plan; Aaron Shaver of U.S. Signal on cloud service security; Ray Davidson of the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium on social engineering; Dan Post of Varonis on data-driven social engineering; Steve Miller of Gordon Food Service on security baselines; Jill Miller of Varnum on the new EMV payment rules; Andy Syrewicze of Trivalent Group on introductory defenses; and Michael Pearson of WatchGuard on malware.

“This free expo is designed to provide insights regardless of your level of expertise — whether you are an executive, have advanced knowledge or are seeking ‘Security 101,’” said Phil Catlett, president of Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan.

“Opportunities to network with experts may help you better understand and manage current threats as well as identify and prepare to meet emerging challenges.”

Southward migration

As Michigan’s weather turns colder, Western Michigan University has turned its gaze toward a much warmer climate for a new location.

During a board meeting last week in Grand Rapids, university officials decided to authorize moving forward with petitioning the Florida Board of Education for a provisional license to locate a campus near the Punta Gorda area.

The potential expansion to southwest Florida would provide WMU’s College of Aviation students significantly more time in the cockpit without the weather hassles.

Dawn Gaymer, associate provost for extended university programs, said Florida does not have a public university offering an aviation program. “Aviation is central to this effort,” she said.

WMU’s College of Aviation recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and offers courses such as Aviation Flight Science, Aviation Management and Operations and Aviation Maintenance Technology for undergraduate students.

Students currently learn how to navigate the skies at the W.K. Kellogg airport in Battle Creek. The new location has the potential of providing an additional flight program by partnering with Florida Southwestern State College.

The expansion would also present an opportunity for WMU’s College of Health and Human Services by offering clinical rotations for students in nearby health care settings.

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