The Grand Rapids Chamber Celebrates 20 Years of Healing Racism

When was the last time you had an honest conversation about race with a diverse set of people?

Over the years, racism has become one of several highly sensitive topics that people avoid talking about in public. The sad truth is that racism happens every day, whether or not we choose to discuss it with our peers or coworkers. This silence likely even perpetuates racism, encouraging ignorance through a lack of understanding.

Racism can assume many forms. Whether it’s the explicit judgment of others because of skin color, telling a bad joke in the break room, or more subtle versions where the person doesn’t even realize they carry an implicit bias – like assuming someone is less qualified for a job.

Sonya Hughes, Vice President of Inclusion

To the Grand Rapids Chamber, racism is a disease – and like many other diseases, there is a cure. Take part in the healing process with the Chamber’s Institute for Healing Racism (IHR).

“For 20 years, the Chamber’s IHR has provided a facilitated process, language, and context to examine racism to help move equity forward,” said Sonya Hughes, the Chamber’s Vice President of Inclusion. “We’re proud to have put over 2,000 through the program and are thankful for the many volunteers, partners, and supporters that have contributed to the success and sustainability of the initiative. While we recognize progress has been made, there is still work to be done.”


Facing Racism, IHR’s 2-day program, ultimately teaches that we must bring racism to the forefront of our discussions and embrace it as both a personal and societal problem. Once this is accomplished, the framework is set for not only knowing how to identify racism, but how to take steps in eliminating it from both our workplaces and our communities.

Facing Racism, August 2017 Session

The program is designed to attack the disease of racism from all sides. Throughout the program, a racially diverse group of people commit to learning how to diagnose and heal the disease by first dissecting their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Most importantly, each participant must be able to listen in a non-judgmental, objective manner.

Once this first step of trust and understanding has been taken, the members of the group are more receptive to open and honest discussions about some of the most understated and controversial topics related to racism. What does it mean to be a person of color? What does it mean to be white? How is this racism affecting my company? By the end of the session, each participant will be empowered with the knowledge and insight of how to combat racism in his or her workplace, personal life, and community.

“We talk about a difficult topic, but we do it in a safe space,” said Kenneth James, Talent Development Program Manager of the Chamber. “We’re not attacking any individual or a group of people. We do have to take a look at our past, and there’s some pain there, but it’s done safely and respectfully.’


We believe the most effective way to combat racism is to educate individuals by use of an honest and open dialogue. Together, we can rebuild our multicultural community into a place where people of all races can live and work in an understanding and affirming manner. Through our program, participants begin a learning process that will enable them to become a catalyst for racial unity, not only within their workplaces but throughout all aspects of their lives.

Kenneth James, Talent Development Program Manager

“I’m a big advocate of IHR. It gives you a lens that the average person hasn’t been exposed to and that’s phenomenal,” said James. “We also give it a business spin by discussing hiring policies and employer relations. A harmonious work environment will positively impact your company’s bottom line.”

Ensure the health of your company and community by becoming a healer of racism.

Questions? Visit or contact Kenneth James at

Samantha Suarez Administrator

Samantha is the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s resident Communications Specialist.

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