West Michigan Nice

There comes a point to reach families that would benefit from the bountiful resources in Kent County, agencies must be willing to get past the “West Michigan Nice” (WMN) way of thinking. What is West Michigan Nice? It is a comfortable reality where we hide from direct conflict, avoiding disruption of social niceties. We keep our interactions and relationships shallow. Recently I attended a meeting where this topic came up. There was a consensus among those in attendance, that the outreach methods used to reach and assist families throughout the Early Childhood Continuum in Kent County needed to be brought to the forefront. Conversations about how to reach mostly minority communities is never an easy subject to broach. The default response of WMN does little to assist families. Rather than tackling tough issues of why there aren’t more families from different communities on their roster, agencies seem to be ok with there being a divide among what communities will receive services.

I have been associated with the Early Childhood Continuum for four years and I have had an underlying feeling that my family met the “OK” criteria. I wasn’t hostile or angry, I could hold a conversation, relate to what was being said or done and most importantly overlook that there wasn’t ANY information pertaining to Dad’s. I was told on more than one occasion to substitute in my mind the word father whenever I saw mother.

Segregation comes in many forms. Hyper-segregation occurs when a race/ethnic group is highly segregated in multiple ways. An example of hyper-segregation; race, gender, geography, income, one or two parent homes and the different categories can go on and on.

Kent County’s Early Childhood Continuum needs policies that assist families and neighborhoods suffering from years of not having minority representatives at the table. Combating implicit bias when discussions of what is the best and most cost-effective way to reach certain neighborhoods. There must be intentionality in terms of inclusion, equity and policies to understand the less visible presence of implicit bias. Until these cultural barriers are addressed there will remain a divide.

No matter how diversified an organization might be, eradicating WMN and getting past incremental superficial change must be the mission. It is my hope that the Early Childhood Continuum possess the courage to go into uncomfortable places, relationally and professionally.