A Look Back on 20 Years
David Rhem: Compelled to Take a Stand
The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance will celebrate its 20th anniversary in June 2016. In the coming months, we will take a look back at LEDA’s history and pay tribute to individuals who have taken a leadership role in advancing the mission of LEDA.
Back in 1996, David Rhem was compelled to stand up and fight against racist behavior in his community. Attorney David Rhem was a founding member of LEDA and served as its board president from 1999-2003. Twenty years later, he remains committed to educating, informing, challenging and advocating for equal access and opportunity for all. Recently, David took a few minutes to reflect on his involvement with LEDA:
How did you become involved in LEDA?
I joined the LEDA effort in 1996 after a burning cross was planted in the front yard of an African-American family in the Tri-Cities. I was outraged that this kind of behavior had occurred in my community, and felt compelled to stand up and fight against it. I did not know where to start, or what to do, but then became aware of a group of like-minded persons who were meeting to discuss a response to the situation. This group of like-minded persons became the founding members of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which later changed its name to the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, or LEDA. I became a board member and served as president for several years.
What keeps you committed to LEDA?
I remain committed to LEDA’s vision because I believe that racial justice and reconciliation remains one of our greatest challenges as Americans. It requires an on-going effort and constant work as evidenced by the fact that even today, in 2015, arsonists continue to burn African-American churches to the ground, and politicians, including candidates for president, openly make racist remarks involving immigrants and religious groups. This type of conduct cannot go unchallenged. We must continue to educate, inform, challenge, and advocate in order to change the hearts and minds of those that engage in this type of conduct.
What impact has LEDA had in its 20 years?
Having been involved in LEDA since its inception, I can say that LEDA has had a tremendous impact in West Michigan. Thousands of persons have attended the Summits on Racism; hundreds of middle and high school students have participated in the Calling All Colors program; and many persons have been involved in the Migrant Mentoring program. Leading Ottawa County employers have supported LEDA’s efforts, have used LEDA’s diversity training program, and have recognized that cultural competence is a business imperative in today’s environment in dealing with customers and attracting and retaining the best talent.
Why should others invest themselves or their organizations in LEDA?
I would encourage others to involve themselves and their organizations with LEDA’s activities because this investment of time will provide wonderful opportunities for personal growth, as well as benefiting our West Michigan communities. As Ottawa County continues to become more diverse, we all need to have a level cultural competence to comfortably interact, live, work and play together so that we can effectively address the continuing challenges that are coming our way. This is especially true in order to prepare our children who will be living and working in a far more diverse country than exists today.
LEDA in the Community
The Implicit Bias Education Action Team is accepting invitations to share a short visual presentation on implicit bias with community organizations and faith-based groups in Northwest Ottawa County. Implicit biases are those hidden biases that can shape our judgments and decision-making without our conscious awareness.
After participating in LEDA’s 2015 Summit on Race & Inclusion the Implicit Bias Action Team developed the 30-minute visual presentation in order to create community awareness of implicit bias and how these unconscious biases adversely affect people of color. The presentation also introduces tools for reducing implicit bias.
If your community organization or faith-based group would like to host the Action Team and its presentation, please email Nancy Collins, Northwest Ottawa diversity associate, or call 616.846.9074.
Article submitted by Reyna Masko. Reprinted from the LEDA newsletter.