At the Grand Rapids Community Foundation we are deliberate about taking this stand against all "isms" and in particular the injustice that surrounds and buried deep in hateful racist attitudes and actions. And not for just one day but for each and every day.
My first encounter with racism occurred when I was 4 years old and this is a vivid memory. My grandparents took me to Ann Arbor on a sunny summer day to enjoy the beauty of the area. At a playground they walked me over to the swing set and I happily climbed on a swing and began to soar toward the clouds! As I was swinging, a little girl joined me on the next swing. We giggled together and tried to see who could swing higher than the other! I do remember feeling so free and so happy!
Then my grandmother came over and grabbed me off the swing - I was shaking wondering what was going on! She said loudly in front of my new friend, "you are not to play with those people!" I looked at her and asked what people? She pointed to my friend whose mother was now standing behind her. I didn't understand but my friend's mom sure did and whisked her daughter away down the path out of the playground.
My new friend was African-American and my grandmother dragged me into the car saying those are people we do not associate with and you just don't understand. As I was wailing while she continued to call my friend names that I had never heard before but I do recall having her tell me that my friend's skin color seemed to be the issue. I told my grandma that was "not nice" and sat frozen in the back seat until they dropped me off back home.
I wrote in a blog entry two years ago on the occasion of Martin Luther King's birthday my observations about my years growing up during the 1960s. I admitted, which sometimes I don't like to do, growing up in the affluent Detroit suburb Grosse Pointe. However, I did not have a privileged life. I was raised by two down-to-earth parents who were more concerned that I was too shy versus a kid that was a revolutionary. I silently took the time to learn about the world that was beyond the borders of Grosse Pointe. Though it was definitely a community of white privilege.
I purposely volunteered to tutor at an inner city elementary school, I worked summers and evenings at The Detroit News alongside kids from across the metro Detroit area, and I read everything I could get my hands regarding racism, social change, human services, community organization and righting the wrongs of oppression and segregation. The riots of 1967 taught me that the border between Detroit and Grosse Pointe was artificial yet seemingly so very impenetrable.
As I sit here 40+ years later writing this blog entry, I am mindful that I write it as the President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation as well as Diana Sieger the private citizen. There are reasons I am in this position today. I was determined at 21 years old that I was going to do something in my life that had tremendous meaning and that I would reach out to help make lives better. It is no surprise that I am at this place in my life and I know how fortunate I truly am. Leading this foundation is a privilege and not something I take for granted.
And so it is as president of the Foundation and as a human being, I am taking a Stand Against Racism today and every day.