GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After more than a year of trying to address the topic of racism virtually, the Institute for Healing Racism is set to resume in-person sessions.
The Grand Rapid Chamber of Commerce has hosted the institute since 1997.
But the pandemic limited the outreach at the same time protest in the streets highlighted the need for it.
“The power of this tool, or resource, comes in the conversations we have,” said Dante Villarreal, vice president for Business and Talent Development with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.
It all begins when employers notice the need from talk heard in the break rooms and board rooms.
“Our employers were saying our workforce is having these conversations and they’re not happening in probably the most productive manner,” Villarreal said.
The institute’s direct, rip off the bandage and expose the wound approach is designed to lead to more understanding.
And it’s not a one-way discussion.
“When you are in the class, your view point, regardless if you’re a minority or nonminority, is just as important. Everybody has a lens that is critical to this conversation,” Villareal said.
The in-person, face-to-face contact among participants is key to having productive discussions.
That was lost during the pandemic.
The timing could not be worse with the killing of George Floyd and other incidents creating protest in the streets of Grand Rapids and elsewhere.
That’s why a return to in-person session next month is so important.
“The institute is about opening up wounds and working through those challenges that we’re having. That’s more difficult virtually because you don’t create that rapport as easily with the individuals as if you were in person,” Villareal said.
Villarreal is hoping the return to in-person sessions, set to begin in September, will a make a difference.
Despite the efforts of the Institute for Healing Racism and similar programs, the problems have not gone away.
So how can the success of the institute be measured?
It’s about business.
Villarreal cites studies that show diverse companies tend to outperform companies that lack diversity.
And he says while there’s more work to be done, Grand Rapids’ success as a competitor in the business world helps prove programs like the Institute for Healing Racism do have an impact.
“If in our community we’re having trouble retaining the people we attract here, that shows us that we’re not where we need to be, or we haven’t moved the needle as quickly as we need to,” Villarreal said.
For more information on the institute and the dates of upcoming, in-person sessions, visit its website.