Diversity: can it be saved in small-town America?

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By Courtney Kendler
Holt Journal staff reporter

When you walk into a coffee shop or beauty parlor in Holt, you may not be surprised to see a primarily white demographic.

According to statistics gathered from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, Holt is 86.3 percent white, 5.6 percent African American and 5.4 percent Hispanic.

In that same year, the state of Michigan was recorded as being 78.9 percent white, 14.2 percent African American and 4.4 percent Hispanic.

The chart compares the racial distribution of residents of Holt, Michigan and the United States.

The chart compares the racial distribution of residents of Holt, Michigan and the United States. Chart by Courtney Kendler.

Compared with the state average, Holt has a significantly higher representation of white residents, while the number of African American and other minority groups in the area is lacking.

Avni Tokhie, an Indian American and recent transplant to Holt, has taken notice of the lack of diversity in the area. “I noticed that Holt lacked diversity when I went grocery shopping at the Holt Meijer,” she said. “I only saw Caucasians and a few African Americans, nothing else.”

Township Supervisor C.J. Davis believes the reason Holt is home to so many Caucasians is because the community has traditionally been that way. “People here were raised by a bunch of farmers and a lot of the African Americans went into the city to live because it was closer to jobs and closer to the plants,” said Davis.

“Holt is not diverse, but I feel like they are still accepting of other people,” said Tokhie. “Since it’s a small town, people probably think the residents here are close-minded, but I have not run into any of those people so far.”

What Holt lacks in racial diversity, it also lacks in religious diversity. According to a 2010 U.S. Religion Census, there are 16 Catholic churches registered in Holt, but no synagogues or mosques.

“There has never been a synagogue in Holt,” said Davis. “There is one synagogue, Kehillat Israel, on Aurelius (Road), but that is the closest one to us.”

According to Davis, Kehillat Israel is the closest synagogue to the Holt area. Photo by Courtney Kendler

According to Davis, Kehillat Israel is the closest synagogue to the Holt area. Photo by Courtney Kendler

Audrey Taylor, a constant fixture at her church near Holt, said the majority of registered members at her church are white, but that a large number of minority children are bussed in from surrounding poor neighborhoods for services each Sunday morning.

“My church is more accepting of minorities because we’re trying to help them,” said

Michigan State University Professor of Social Work Dr. Ronald Hall believes that initiatives like this, which create alliances between churches, are a good way to promote diversity.

“I think churches in Holt could start the process by interacting with black churches,” said Hall. “There are quit a number of African American churches in the Lansing area and if those churches could interact together, I think that’s a way you can begin to form a community alliance.”

Because concerns over diversity have never been at the forefront of Holt development, no funds are currently being allocated toward enlightening the public about people of different races or ethnicities.

According to Davis, townships operate differently than cities, leaving little money to be spent on initiatives that might improve diversity. “When we spend money on issues like this, unlike city budgets, we have people within the township asking why we are spending their taxes doing this and that,” said Davis. “But, as a township, we try to make it welcoming for everybody.”

Contrary to what Davis said, Tufts University Professor of Sociology Susan Ostrander believes there are many things communities can do to educate people about diversity, many of which don’t involve spending a lot of money.

“Public schools can also make sure that curricula is inclusive and that children and teachers are culturally competent,” said Ostrander. “Community organizations, including churches, can sponsor discussions about why diversity matters.”

Ostrander also suggests that local businesses should consider selling ethic foods and other products, as well as hiring people from diverse groups.

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