Opening Hearts & Minds

Posted by Bob Sutherland on Sep 4th 2020


It may seem to some that Northern Michigan is far-removed from the heated debates about racial equity happening around the country. But a recent incident with our local county commission pointed a harsh spotlight on us, and it illuminated the very real need for racial education in our corner of the world.

After all, while our area has very few Black residents and is not as diverse as Michigan's metropolitan areas, we are blessed to live among our Indigenous brothers and sisters -- the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians -- who were here long before anyone else. And for generations we have welcomed migrant workers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America who have been instrumental in our success as an agricultural leader, and who today we count among our neighbors and friends.

Still, it's no secret that Northern Michigan is overwhelmingly white, and it's up to us to educate ourselves about the realities of life as a person of color in America. To that end, local advocacy group Title Track -- whose past work has included programs to support clean water and empower youth -- recently created a training course entitled Understanding Racial Justice. Title Track founder, musician, and activist Seth Bernard describes the five-week Zoom course as a transformative community- and capacity-building experience that supports the quest to join the movement for racial justice. It is appropriate for white people who have had little to no prior antiracism or anti-oppression training. Themes explored include race, racism, privilege, identity, solidarity, accountability, oppression, liberation; as well as cultural trauma and healing, and what it means to become an embodied antiracist white person. The third week includes creative and somatic practice that supports integration.

Bernard_WolffSeth, who acts as co-facilitator along with Elizabeth Wolff, has been met by overwhelmingly positive comments from participants across the region and is currently taking registrations for Session 3, which will run from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18. 

Fees are on a sliding scale from $125 to $500 ($25 to $100 per week), and while Rotary Charities of Traverse City has graciously underwritten much of the cost of this program, donations for a scholarship fund are still needed. Cherry Republic has provided a $6,000 grant, and I encourage others to pitch in however they can to help support this worthwhile endeavor.

Northern Michigan towns may be small, but I believe our hearts are big.