Chamber opens racism institute to GRCC staff


The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is giving all staff at Grand Rapids Community College access to its Institute for Healing Racism.

The institute program fits well with the goals of the GRCC Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion, which houses the office of diversity, equity and inclusion, said B. Afeni McNeely Cobham, GRCC’s chief equity and inclusion officer.

McNeely Cobham said the institute is a solid entry point for people looking to grow their cultural competence. Participation in the institute would be a prerequisite for employees looking to participate in advanced training offered by the GRCC office of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The chamber’s institute has been in operation since 1999, said Kenneth James, the chamber’s director of inclusion.

Rather than doubling efforts to offer this basic training, it makes more sense for the organizations to collaborate, James said.

“What the partnership does is it allows people to still go through the institute and it frees up the college to further their own diversity and inclusion efforts,” James said.

The partnership will allow the chamber and GRCC to share expertise and resources and create additional opportunities for faculty and staff.

“This partnership is about the business sector and education coming together to continue these important conversations,” McNeely Cobham said.

The chamber said it created the Institute for Healing Racism as an opportunity to have honest conversations about race and identity with a diverse set of people.

“Discussions around race can be polarizing,” McNeely Cobham said. “It’s important to work together, develop our skills around cultural competence and embrace these opportunities before a tragedy strikes, rather than when emotions are running high.”

The institute is offering six sessions in 2020 that anyone can attend.

The program gathers up to 30 participants from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. for two consecutive days.

James said the program starts by taking a historical look at racism and how it affects society now.

“Then we give tools on how to combat it,” James said. “We give you the steps to speak up and acknowledge racism when you see it.”

Each participant leaves with a personal action plan on how they can make a difference where they live and work, James said.

James said past participants have called the sessions “life-changing” and say they wish they had had that knowledge sooner. 

He said there have been business leaders who have gone through the sessions and then recommend all new hires do the same.

“We work with a lot of partners in the community that tend to send people through the institute on a regular basis,” James said.

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