Commission of Community: our town’s most vital, yet unrecognized committee


Maddie Monroe

A selected group of local youth leaders met this past year at one of the first “Dinner & Dialogue” events held at the Artisan.

For the last 16 months, I have been fortunate enough to be one of two student representatives for the Grand Haven Human Relations Commission: a sub-committee of our town’s city council.

With the end of my two-year term nearing, my perspectives about Grand Haven have almost changed entirely from what I’ve been able to witness while the monthly meetings and local committee events have been in session.

Before having this opportunity, I never really understood the cultural issues in our town that impacted the lives of so many; affecting them (typically) so unfairly.

Point-in-case: the first meeting I attended as a representative. It began with Grand Haven’s Police Chief, Jeff Hawke, sternly speaking to our group about the appearance of “It’s okay to be white” propaganda all over Grand Haven’s downtown area.

For starters, I was caught-off-guard by Hawke’s surprising shrill and more importantly, I had not even heard about the racial protests from anyone.

I never thought something of that measure would happen in our town. But, that was my mindset because I had been doing what I had always done: staying confined within my bubble.

Not caring to wonder about the other 10,904 people in the same town as me.

To my luck, that mentality quickly burst and that’s when I began to uncover the issues and stigmas, hushed by the city, but brought to positive light by the Human Relations commission.

And that was also the same meeting where we formed the first steps on our path to change protests like that through a new initiative: “Dinner & Dialogue”.

Building off of Oak Park’s past model, we created local gatherings that would be held once every two months where community members – strangers to one another but connected by calling Grand Haven their home – would meet at a table, cherish each other’s presence and converse over what has been left unspoken: cultural conflicts that have quietly polarized our town.

Individuals ranging from our own superintendent to recently settled refugees, even youth vocalists, met to finally bring awareness on what was previously unrecognized.

Experiencing it live as one of those seated alongside the table, I could feel the dusty curtains being opened on a long misconceived issue and I could envision a much needed new story just panning out.

It’s only came to fruition by the action of a special kind of group and the courage of selfless citizens to rewrite Grand Haven’s underlying history.

And that’s us: the Human Relations commission.

We would probably come off as just normal group of people: a couple high school students, some county workers, a developmental specialist and more.

But, that’s just the surface.

Each of us have been inspired or faced these city conflicts and know that only we can put matters into our own hands and fix this problem from the bottom, up.

I can’t stress enough how much my fellow representatives have done for this city from a social standpoint. Rhonda Kleyn, a member of our commission, is the one that first comes to mind for me – consistently helping through her work with the Neighborhood Housing Services, but going further for acquiring key sponsors, tracking minutes of our meetings and extending her support in any of our events.

She is just one of our 10 representatives who do the same each and every day.

These are the people I consider close peers today that have empowered me more than I could’ve ever imagined, projecting the need for effective positive change within our community.

So as I only have three more months of being a Human Relations commission member, I want to say thank you: for the people I’ve been able to cooperate with, for the work I’ve been able to accomplish and for the feeling of change I’ve been able to see through other people’s lives; it’s quite amazing.

I stumbled upon this opportunity through chance: an application was extended to me because I crossed paths with my old next-door neighbor after bringing her garbage cans up her driveway one day.

I guess it just fits the saying: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.