LIFEGroup Reflections

This week we completed the break out sessions for the Justice and Mercy
series. As we ended the discussion we talked about some of the things
that we can do to fight against racism. Initially we had difficulty
getting started. The problem is so big; it's hard to know how to begin
to attack it. We started coming up with some good suggestions but at the
same time it seemed like we were continually addressing the symptoms of
the problem, rather than the cause.

What would it take for real change to take place? What would need to
happen to reverse the power structure so that people could be treated
equally in our country and in our city? The first step when solving a
problem is to understand the problem. Here are some facts about West
Michigan you might not know. Muskegon County is the fourth most
segregated county in Michigan. The Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon area
is one of the most segregated areas in the country with 84.1 percent of
African Americans living primarily in the urban areas of Grand Rapids,
Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. The Muskegon/Norton Shores metropolitan
area is the tenth most segregated place in the nation.

The growth in West Michigan has been described as happening in a donut
pattern. Growth is occurring around the outside of the cites in suburban
areas. Guess what happens when people move out of the city. The city
looses tax revenue, the schools suffer, the housing market suffers, and
the economy suffers. When the schools are inadequately funded the
children have a significantly smaller chance of attending university. In
urban areas in West Michigan graduation rates and standardized test
scores are lower while dropout rates are higher. Urban areas are forced
to try and raise taxes to make up for lost revenues. High taxes and low
housing values makes urban areas unattractive to potential home buyers
and investors. This creates a downward cycle of perpetual decline. Have
you ever seen a map of the ethnic distribution of Muskegon County? Guess
where the whole of the donut is.

I live in Muskegon City. If I drive east for less than a mile the median
value of a home drops by over $17,000. The college attainment rate in
Grand Rapids is 23.8%, in Muskegon Heights its 4.5%. When the last
census was taken in 2000 the unemployment rate for Muskegon City was
6.1%. Down the road in Muskegon Heights it was 10.5%. Those that live in
the urban areas are becoming increasingly isolated from educational
opportunities, economic resources and political power.

Did you know that when suburbs were being created between 1930 and 1950
the Federal Housing Association actively pursued a policy of denying
loans for houses being built near African American areas? Often one
needed to include a racially exclusive covenant in the deed of the house
to get federally subsidized mortgages. White World War II veterans could
purchase homes in the newly created suburbs through Veterans
Administration low-interest loans. Suburban areas were given the right
to municipal incorporation which allowed them to spend their tax
revenues exclusively within their defined boundaries. It was not until
the late 1940s that explicit racial exclusion in suburban areas was made

When the people moved out of the city so did the jobs. Those in urban
areas without adequate transportation have increasingly found themselves
isolated from jobs. Did you know that by the mid 1990's the federal
government had spent 326 billion dollars on new highways in metropolitan
areas? These highways help to connect the suburbanites to the jobs.

So what can we do? The facts that you have just read come from the
Report of the Urban Center Revitalization Task Force for the West
Michigan Strategic Alliance. The report came out on July 25, 2005. The
report details the effects of racism on the urban areas of West
Michigan. The end of the report contains an action agenda for both
leaders and citizens. The action agenda contains lots of great ideas of
how to combat the problem of racism and the problems racism has caused.
Next week we'll talk more about the suggestions given by the report. You
can view the report at

Justice and Mercy was a four week series. Does that mean that after four
weeks we can be done thinking about issues of injustice in our
communities and around the world? Of course not, the challenge has been
put out to us and we must respond. A good way to respond is through our
LIFEGroups. We'll talk about how LIFEGroups can be mobilized to respond
next week.