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Expert explains how to combat racial and economic disparities


BATTLE CREEK, Michigan, January 29, 2004Neutral public policies – particularly housing policies – have harmed people of color, a noted civil rights expert said Monday in Battle Creek.


Professor john a. powell, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, said such policies have not provided affordable housing beyond the core city.


Opportunity is structured so it’s moving further away from the central city,” he said. “We’re structuring racial disparities. The best anti-poverty program has been giving people homes physically close to opportunities. The effect of building homes and businesses further and further out is devastating to those in cities and outside cities. We’re using up our cornfields, spreading limited resources thinner and thinner. It’s more expensive for everyone.”


Dr. powell, who prefers the lower-case spelling of his name, spoke January 26 to a crowd of 400 people at the Burnham Brook Center in Battle Creek. His talk focused on why people of color continue to face disparities in health, housing, income, and opportunities relative to whites, despite improvement in racial attitudes. He also discussed why this is detrimental to the entire community.


The solution, according to powell, is including citizens of all racial and economic backgrounds in the effort and working together as a region. “Competition isn’t between city and suburbs, it’s between regions. Regions that work together with transportation, housing, and education policies are more vibrant,” says powell.


“The presence of Dr. powell and his presentation will hopefully wet our appetite in this community to think more critically about community strength, to find our commonality in the things that benefit all people,” said Reverend William Wyne, co-convener of JONAH, a newly formed organization of Battle Creek congregations that sponsored the event and is working to address injustices in the community.


Over 125 residents and policymakers braved Tuesday’s blizzard to meet with powell and further discuss how public policy decisions can impact racial disparities and how changes can be made to improve the entire region. The afternoon panel session, attended by nearly 100 participants, focused on how faith-based organizations composed of congregations can affect social change.

The events are part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Expert in Residence series. Professor powell’s visit is sponsored by the following community partners: Battle Creek Public Schools, ISAAC, JONAH, Legacy Enterprises, Inc., MOSES, The National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism, NonProfit Alliance of Calhoun County, Organizational Development Solutions Inc., Urban League of Battle Creek, Yes we can! and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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