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Town Hall participants: Racial inequities play out every day in every field

Town Hall participants.JPG
Community leaders, clockwise from top left, Regena Nelson, Dorla Bonner, Vic Ledbetter, Stephanie Moore, and Denise Crawford participate in a Black Voices Town Hall on systemic racism hosted by News Channel 3 on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. (WWMT)

Wondering about systemic racism? What is it? How does it happen? How can it be prevented?

In one of the first addresses to the nation as president, Joe Biden said systemic racism, otherwise known as institutional racism, has plagued the country for far too long.

Regena Nelson, chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies at Western Michigan University, defined systemic racism as "societal or organizational structures and policies that privilege one race over another."

On Jan. 29, 2021, Nelson joined others in Kalamazoo County for a discussion about systemic racism and how it exists throughout the county in a Your Voice Your Future Town Hall hosted by News Channel 3. Answers to those questions were explored both on air and online. Black Voices: What is systemic racism aired at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, 2021, and was livestreamed on News Channel 3's website.

Watch the town hall below, or on the News Channel 3 watch page:

Joining the news team for the discussion were five community members with expertise in such areas as education, housing, criminal justice, employment, health care and government. The panelists are:

  • Denise Crawford, president and chief executive officer of the Family Health Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • Dorla Bonner, director of Kalamazoo’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan
  • Vic Ledbetter, the police academy training director at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and a Portage City Council member
  • Stephanie Moore, a former Kalamazoo County commissioner and community activist
  • Regena Nelson, an early childhood education professor and chair of the department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies at Western Michigan University

Education system

Benton Harbor schools, with primarily Black students, reported receiving about $10,000 per student, while 30 minutes away, students at New Buffalo schools, a white dominated system, received $27,000 per student.

Nelson said systemic racism repeats in cycles, starting at the education system.

She said funding policies in education lead to less resources in urban areas. When a school system is short-handed resources, it leads to poverty in the area.

"Therefore your neighborhood is a strong predictor of your school experience and educational opportunities, which can impact achievement outcomes that are related to test scores, repeating a grade or dropping out of high school," Nelson said.

Housing

Fuller said moving to a different home to receive a better education is not as easy as it sounds.

“If you can’t get an application, how can you get into the home?” she said.

According to the Mortgage Disclosure Act of 2017, there were 2,209 mortgage applications submitted in Kalamazoo. More than 70% of applications submitted by white residents were approved, with only 48% of applications submitted by Black residents approved.

In 2017, no loans originated from the Northside neighborhood, which is primarily a Black community, according to the Fair Housing Report for 2017-18.

Criminal justice system

Ledbetter said America has been seeing two different criminal justice systems, and as an example pointed to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection when a white woman was released to her parents after being accused of stealing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's laptop.

“When people say that Black people excel in sports. It is not that we are superior, it is that we all play by the same rules," Ledbetter said. "So when we all play by the same rules, you have an opportunity to develop and excel in that. If we all play by the same rules in businesses, schools, institutions it would be a very diverse atmosphere."

Health care

Crawford said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted Black and brown-skinned residents suffering disproportionally in the health care system.

She said the highest infection rates and the lowest areas of vaccinations were seen in the 49007 and 49048 ZIP codes, which are primarily Black communities.

Government

Moore, as a member of the Kalamazoo County Commission, has introduced a proclamation declaring racism as a public health crisis in the county.

She called the county a melting pot, with people from different races and multiple different backgrounds, but that mix is not reflected in the county government and beyond.

“Our government does not reflect all of our community," she said.

The lack of representation in government allows institutional racism to thrive, she said.

“Representation absolutely matters," she said.