Racial inequality discussed at West Michigan town hall

Ottawa County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dozens of West Michigan community members took part in a town hall discussing issues dealing with race and incarceration.

The town hall, put together by the Momentum Center, a nonprofit organization in Grand Haven, touched on topics such as the origins of mass incarceration in America and modern-day dilemmas that impact minorities.

One of the speakers, Nathan Jones of Escape Ministries in Holland, shared a story about an African American youth who was in a tough spot.

“Carrying around protection was a means of survival due to negative gang relations,” Jones said. “Zero tolerance policy labeled him as an aggressive kid and had an issue out of school without even an option to talk.”

“Zero tolerance policies are pushing kids labeled as aggressive, bad tempered or problem kids into criminal lives,” Jones added.

Another panelist, Timothy Steward, talked about the injustices of the court system.

“If I were standing next to Nathan in front of a judge for the same crime, and his family has money and supports him, they’re going to give him a break before they give me a break because I’m automatically tagged because of the color of my skin,” Steward said. “The system did that.”

Rik Stevenson, a former Grand Valley State University professor, shared a story about a high school counselor not believing he could have a life of education.

“Because my father didn’t graduate elementary school and my mother didn’t graduate high school, I wasn’t good enough to go to college,” Stevenson said. “Well, I have five degrees, two masters and two doctorates. But if my mother hadn’t pushed us, that school system would have damaged me and that happens to a lot of young Black kids.”

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