Statement on the Need for Respectful and Inclusive Symbols of Community Life
Timothy Ready, Director
In this second decade of the Twenty-First Century, we should be beyond the point where those who run our institutions and shape our culture maintain symbolic representations of community life that caricature the racial and ethnic heritage of those who are not in the majority. As Director of Western Michigan University’s Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations, I am calling on everyone, especially those in leadership positions, to respect the heritage and culture of Native American Indian peoples--and of all peoples who enrich the fabric of our communities, state and nation.
Michigan communities, like communities all across the United States, are becoming increasingly diverse. Less than three years from now in the year 2020, children who are not of European origin and who have long been considered “minorities” will become the majority in the United States. The transition to “majority minority” for the population as a whole has already occurred in many cities and in several states, and will happen nationwide in only 25 years.
This demographic reality underscores a point related to common decency and respect that has always been true but can no longer be ignored. For our communities to remain strong and united, our institutions and our culture must honor, respect and build upon the cultural heritage of every racial and ethnic group. Those who run our communities’ institutions and shape their cultures must not condone, let alone sponsor, cultural symbols that historically have been used to demean and that today are still considered offensive by many.
For this reason, it is critically important that our core symbols of community life unite and not divide us. Team names, mascots and other important representations of community must not caricature or stereotype anyone’s racial or ethnic heritage. This is especially true for those symbols that represent school communities whose young members, by their very nature, are impressionable and will learn the implicit and explicit meanings communicated by those symbols.
Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government does not have the authority to ban trademarks that are offensive to certain groups of people. This decision will permit the professional football team based in Washington, DC, to keep its trademark logo and team name, even though they are offensive to many. The Constitution protects the right to free speech, no matter how offensive. That said, the Constitution’s protection of offensive speech should not be confused with what is wise, respectful, or a healthy cultural foundation for inclusive community.
Nowhere is the issue of inclusive symbols of community more important than in school communities. For this reason, I call on the leadership of public schools that have team names and related symbols that are considered demeaning or offensive to any members of the school community to replace those names and symbols with ones that are inclusive and respectful of all.
The mission of the Walker Institute is to engage in research, teaching and service to promote:
- Understanding of race and ethnic relations, with a special emphasis on the causes of disparities and the contexts in which conflicts as well as shared purposes and perspectives arise.
- Appreciation of the diverse peoples and cultures of the United States, with special emphasis on the peoples and cultures of Michigan.
- More equitable and inclusive communities and institutions, especially in this region of the state and throughout Michigan.
Walker Institute in the news
- On June 6 and 7, the Walker Institute hosted a visit to Kalamazoo by Dr. David Ansell, Senior Vice President for Health Equity at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Here is a press account of his message on health as a human right, and a hard look at what happens when that right is ignored and an interview with him on WMUK.
- On May 31, 2017, Encore Magazine published an article about the challenges posed by poverty in Kalamazoo, and the potential of the city's new initiative, Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, to produce a more equitable and inclusive community. Institute Director Tim Ready and Associate Director Don Cooney are extensively quoted. Don Cooney also is a long-time City Commissioner and currently serves as Vice Mayor of Kalamazoo. Surviving but Not Thriving: Poverty Is Kalamazoo's Hidden Problem
- On March 27, 2017, Institute Director Tim Ready presented to the Kalamazoo City Commission. He presented the latest data on poverty for the city and discussed the potential of funding from the Foundation for Excellence to enable the city to achieve the goals of Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo. Ready and Don Cooney, Kalamazoo’s Vice-Mayor and Associate Director of the Walker Institute, are members of Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo’s core team that has been responsible for the design, development and early implementation of the initiative. http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2017/03/kalamazoo_poverty_shared_prosp.html and http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2017/03/poverty_data_shows_racial_disp.html
- Addressing Threats to Healthcare. On February 16, 2017, a forum to discuss Threats to Healthcare will be held from 6:30 to 8:00 pm in room 157 of the Bernhard Center. Speakers include: Erin Knott, Kalamazoo City Commissioner and local director of Enroll America; Cheri Bell of Planned Parenthood; Lynn Turner, Community Liaison for Congressman Fred Upton. and; Dr. Lisa Marshall of Sindacuse Health Center. This event is part of a series of events cosponsored by the Walker Institute on Threats to Justice, the Environment and Civil Rights in 2017.
- Institute director Tim Ready is quoted on how poverty and racial inequities affect education outcomes for kids, and why schools can't be expected to solve these problems aloone -- even with the help of amazing resources like the Kalamazoo Promise. See: https://psmag.com/who-gets-left-behind-by-free-college-tuition-9ea0361ac...
- Don Cooney and Tim Ready discuss Shared Prosperity Kalamzaoo on the December, 2016 edition of Connect: Community in Focus of the Public Media Network. Click the following link to watch. http://www.publicmedianet.org/blog/shared-prosperity-kalamazoo
- Kalamazoo Vice-Mayor and Walker Institute Associate Director Don Cooney is quoted in this article, as is Walker Director Tim Ready. The topic is the investment of philanthropic money in Kalamazoo, and its potential use to address to promote equity and shared prosperity. http://www.routefifty.com/2016/10/kalamazoo-michigan-philanthropy-proper...
- Interview with Tim Ready on WMUK’s West Southwest about Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo and the challenges facing ex-offenders, April 30, 2015 http://wmuk.org/post/wsw-help-poverty-help-children-undergirds-city-kalamazoos-new-initiative
- Interview with Tim Ready on WMUK’s West Southwest about his publication on the limits of the Kalamazoo Promise, July 6, 2015 http://wmuk.org/post/wsw-limits-kalamazoo-promise
- Interview with Tim Ready on WZZM TV-13 on racial and economic inequality of opportunity in West Michigan, June 23, 2015 http://www.wzzm13.com/story/news/local/metro/2015/06/23/racism/29169737/Ready
- Interview on WGVU Radio with Tim Ready on racial and economic inequality of opportunityhttp://wgvu2.org/wgvunews/audio/fplayer1.cfm?styid=32366&id=news
- Interview with Tim Ready on race, class and the criminal justice system that was broadcast on a Cable TV Program sponsored by Crossroads Ministries and broadcast in Kent, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Ottawa and Muskegon Counties. http://cbi.fm/portfolio-view/finding-unity-in-diversity/
- Tim Ready’spublication on the Kalamazoo Promise was cited in an article in the Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2015. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0713-reeves-kalamazoo-promise-20150713-story.html
- Tim Ready and Maurice Washington were interviewed on the Lori Moore Show on Kalamazoo CW-7 TV on race, class and the criminal justice system, March 24, 2015. http://www.wwmt.com/community/features/lori-moore-show/stories/03-24-15-Timothy-Ready-and-Maurice-Washington-39-Less-Prison-More-College-39-106626.shtml#.VedSpvlVhBc
- “Lecture on ‘Less Prison, More College’ Launches New WMU Walker Institute Series on Criminal Justice System.” Kalamazoo Gazette, March 27, 2015. http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2015/03/lecture_on_less_prison_more_co.html
- “Kalamazoo Forums on Race and Criminal Justice to Kick Off April 14.” Kalamazoo Gazettee, April 10, 2015. http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/12/kalamazoo_public_safety_workin_1.html
- “Six Takeaways from Kalamazoo Forum on Juvenile Justice, Race and Class.” Kalamazoo Gazette, April 15, 2015. www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2015/04/5_takeaways_from_kalamazoo_for.htm
- “Should We Press the Reset Button on Our Criminal Justice System?” Kalamazoo Gazette, April 18, 2015. http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2015/04/do_we_need_to_press_the_reset.html
- “Two Sistahs Can We Talk Events in July Aim to Help Low Income Women.” Kalamazoo Gazette, July 17, 2014. http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/07/two_sistahs_can_we_talk_events.html
- “Men’s Health, Mental Health and Violence Prevention Topics of Workshop in Kalamazoo Tonight.” Kalamazoo Gazette, October 23, 2014 http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/10/mens_health_mental_health_and.html
- “Kalamazoo Public Safety Putting Focus on Community Relationships since Before Ferguson.” Kalamazoo Gazette, December 19, 2014 http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/12/kalamazoo_public_safety_workin_1.html