Local and Michigan Headlines: Local Abstinence-only Programs Face Cuts; GRCC Raises Tuition

Here is a round-up of some important stories published in the last 24 hours that cover Grand Rapids and Michigan:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

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Anti-Gay Candidate Elected to GRCC Board of Trustees

Richard Ryskamp

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Richard Ryskamp, an anti-gay “morality” candidate for Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees. Unfortunately, Ryskamp won the seat. He received the second highest number of votes in the election.

In an article from the Grand Rapids Press, Interim President Ann Mulder seemed concerned over Ryskamp’s election. She was quoted saying, “I have faith the top three will understand the significance of this college and will put aside any individual agenda to address the real issues of education and the viability of this college.” Over the past several years, Ryskamp has appeared at board meetings and consistently criticized the school for its policies.

We wrote a detailed piece about his politics, but it’s worth noting a further substantiation of his anti-gay views. Earlier this year, Ryskamp submitted a letter to the editor in the Grand Rapids Press weighing in on the controversy over WOOD TV 8’s decision not to air an anti-gay television special. Not surprisingly for Ryskamp–who has criticized gay speakers at GRCC–ranted against the “radical homosexual agenda” and “radical gay activists.”

We’ll keep an eye on Ryskamp and what he advocates. It’s unfortunate that a school that is known for taking serious steps to promote diversity and LGBT inclusion, now has such a man serving on the board.

Vote Today

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For those living in the Grand Rapids and Greater Grand Rapids area, there are a number of different local elections today. There is a Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education election, the Rapid Silver Line millage proposal, and the Grand Rapids Community College Board elections.

You can find your polling location on the Kent County website and you can read more about the elections by consulting the following items on MediaMouse.org:

Richard Ryskamp: The Anti-Gay “Morality” Candidate for GRCC’s Board

Richard Ryskamp

On Monday, we posted video from a candidate forum for candidates in Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees election.

We also mentioned one candidate, Richard Ryskamp, is a far right “social conservative” that is running a campaign that wants to restore “values” to the college. Even though Ryskamp likely has no chance of winning–the oh-so-liberal Grand Rapids Press even came out against him–its worth noting his views on some of the issues, lest some voters accidentally vote for him (Trigger warning: some of this may be offensive):

COURSE MATERIAL: In his “My Story” page explaining why he is running, Ryskamp describes his major motivation as being the fact that a Freshman English course at GRCC assigned the film American Beauty in class. Ryskamp describes the film as “filthy” argues that it is indicative of the kind of “indoctrination” that public universities engage in. As further examples, he says that University of Michigan engages in “the training of abortionists to the promotion of sodomy through courses like ‘How to be Gay.'”

LGBT ISSUES: Ryskamp is highly critical of programs at GRCC that promote awareness about LGBT issues. For example, he is critical of GRCC’s decision to have gay men as speakers at GRCC during its Diversity Lecture Series. Ryskamp says that the two “promote perversity” asserting: “Among other things, both of these lecturers promoted the opinion that sodomy is wholesome and that certain special privileges should be granted to those who practice it. But no speaker has been hosted to present the opposing view, a view that has been held throughout the history of all enduring civilizations including our own, i.e. that sodomy is unwholesome for individuals and for our society as a whole.” Ryskamp’s homophobia is his main issue.

DRAMA: Ryskamp argues that GRCC’s theater group, GRCC Players, actively produces “propaganda media.” To that end, he argues that the school’s production of “Summer and Smoke” uses “our taxes… to repeatedly to glorify promiscuity.” Similarly, he criticizes the production of “Corpus Christi” in 2003. That play explores gay themes in Christianity. Not surprisingly, Ryskamp’s version of Christianity has room for no such discussion.

It’s also worth noting that in November of 2008, Ryskamp appeared on the ballot for the University of Michigan Regents. In an Mlive.com Voter Guide, Ryskamp said that the most important priority for the University of Michigan is “to end the assault on the religious and moral foundations of our society.”

In that election, Ryskamp ran as a candidate for the U.S. Constitution Party. The U.S. Constitution Party is a far-right political party that is anti-gay, wants to stop immigration and supports “English-only” laws, favors repealing voting rights legislation, and seeks to eliminate social programs such as social security and welfare. Back in 2006, its candidate for Michigan Attorney General spoke at a white supremacist gathering.

During his campaign for the University of Michigan Board of Regents, Ryskamp advocated cutting or eliminating taxpayer funding to educational institutions that pursue agendas contrary to “our nation’s foundation of (biblical) religion and morality.” In this election, Ryskamp has said that he has voted against recent funding requests for GRCC.

GRCC Board of Trustees Election May 5

Along with the transit millage and school board election, another important election coming up on May 5 is for the Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) Board of Trustees

A video of a recent candidate forum is below:

It’s also worth noting that one candidate for the Board of Trustees is Roger Ryskamp, an anti-gay candidate who has been highly critical of GRCC’s efforts aimed at promoting LGBT equality and diversity. Ryskamp has also advocated for greater “moral standards” at GRCC and criticized the school’s so-called promotion of “promiscuity” through its theatre programs.

Davey D Explores Relationship between Hip-Hop, Politics, and Barack Obama

Journalist and Activist Davey D looked at Hip-Hop's Relationship to Barack Obama

Last night, hip-hop journalist and activist Davey D spoke at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) as part of the Black Student Union’s Black History Month activities. Davey D–who traced his involvement in hip-hop back to the Bronx in the late 1970s–explained that hip-hop came out of the experience or in reaction to social oppression, both in the Bronx and with the COINTELPRO repression that destroyed the Civil Rights movement.

However, the big question for hip-hop in 2009 is about President Barack Obama and his relationship to hip-hop. Davey D explained that he attended the inauguration and had a journalist ask him if Barack Obama was the “hip-hop president.”

Hip-Hop Turns Out for Obama

Davey D argued that he could see why people might say Obama was the “hip-hop president.” There were over two hundred songs recorded about Barack Obama during the campaign from artists such as Common, Young Jeezy, and Nelly. At the same time, hip-hop artists were registering people to vote, were campaigning for Obama, and even attending the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Even artists who had not previously had much to say about politics–for example Bow Wow–were talking about Obama and encouraging fans to turn out the vote. Southern rap–known primarily for its bling–also was speaking in support of Obama.

Aside from the more popular artists who supported Obama, there were also efforts aimed at doing other work in the campaign. The Hip-Hop Caucus conducted voter registration tours. Several hip-hop activists also got involved in a campaign to move Texas from being a “Red State” to a “Blue State” by campaigning aggressively to get out the vote.

Fans also turned out in great numbers to campaign for and vote for Obama.

More than Just Jay-Z: Obama Campaign Built on Existing Political Hip-Hop Infrastructure

However, this wasn’t just about celebrity–nor was it just about Obama. Davey D explained that the hip-hop community had been conducting important political work for years and that Obama’s election built on existing networks.

He explained that events like the National Hip-Hop Political Conventions had been organizing to make specific demands of candidates, recognizing for example that people of color were facing a recession before the current economic crisis. There was Russell Simmons holding meetings in 2004 to talk about politics, and Didddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign. There was also the League of Pissed Off Voters that distributed pamphlets across the country in 2004 with candidates’ voting records and stances.

Going back further, Davey D cited Ja Rule’s efforts in the 1990s to get people of color to run for office and 2Pac’s efforts to form a political party that could disrupt the electoral process.

The infrastructure that exists to support hip-hop–especially artists such as Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, and others not actively promoted by labels–also played a part in Obama’s win. Those artists have had to develop alternative ways of distributing their music and touring, as the music industry didn’t want to support music that might empower black people. They also spoke frequently about politics. Similarly, hip-hop broke down the color barrier and made it easier for folks to accept the idea of a black president.

Beyond Concerts: A Focus on Issues Important to the Hip-Hop Community?

Davey D explained that it is only with hip-hop that people ask if Obama is a “hip-hop president.” Nobody asks if he is the “union president,” or the “actors’ president” despite those group’s support. Davey D followed the campaign closely and said that much of the media just wants to ask this about Obama without looking at the deeper stories behind hip-hop’s involvement in the campaign.

D said that there is certainly a reason to celebrate Obama’s victory, but there is also reason to be skeptical.

He said that it remains to be seen where Obama will stand on important issues such as police brutality, which is important to the hip-hop community. He also wonders whether the stimulus package will meet the needs of the hip-hop community, especially after money for schools and art was cut. Money for police was of course kept.

With the political activity of the hip-hop community over the years (going back to at least the Clinton campaign), Davey D said that hip-hop deserves more than simply having Jay-Z perform at the inauguration. Instead, he said that the hip-hop community has demonstrated its power and it deserves a seat at the table in the new administration. He said that hip-hop should remember that it helped Obama get elected and it should not be afraid to make demands on the new president.

Author and Researcher on Immigration Speaks in Grand Rapids

Dr. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a researcher and professor at New York University, spoke at Fountain Street Church last night on immigration and education.

Dr. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco a researcher and professor at New York University spoke at Fountain Street Church in the kick-off lecture for the Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) Diversity Lecture Series. The title of Dr. Suarez-Orozco’s lecture was “Immigration and the Future of Education.”

He began the talk by giving some background on immigration from a global perspective:

“We are in the middle of the largest migratory wave in human history. Roughly half a billion people are directly affected by migration – those who have migrated and their families who are left behind. Immigrants are sending home roughly $300 billion dollars to their home countries, about 3 times the combined total of all foreign aid. China alone has more than 150 million internal immigrants. This is a global issue.”

He said that the current debate over immigration in the US is out of context, because the US tends to see the issue “through the lens of exceptionalism. Every nation has at its core immigration. Immigration has defined the very character of the US. Over 36 million Americans are foreign born today. If we combine those foreign born and their children that would equal 70 million people. Australia, Switzerland, and Germany have higher rates of immigration than the US.” This, the speaker said, helps us frame the issue of immigration, since all societies are dealing with very similar issues.

To illustrate how immigration is currently impacting US communities he cited some data on New York City schools. According to the speaker there are kids from 190 countries in the public school system, with over 90 different languages spoken. As a comparison, one hundred years ago in New York City there were about 12 different languages spoken. Thus both ethnic and linguistic differences are key to understanding the current trends in US education.

Dr. Suarez-Orozco said that education is more important today than ever before and if education is transformative for immigrant children, it will contribute to three positive outcomes; lowering fertility rates, increased health, and financial well-being. The speaker said, “The problems of the 21st century demand more education if we are to solved the problems we are faced with. The US went from 2nd in college graduates globally in 1995 to 15th by 2005.”

Dr. Suarez-Orozco’s new book is called Learning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society. The most important finding is with English language proficiency:

“If you want immigrant children to succeed you need to support literacy programs. Grade Point Average drops with immigrant children the longer they are in the education system. Only 10% of immigrant children improve in education over time. The quality of the schools makes a significant difference. Immigrant children face triple segregation – poverty, race and linguistic dynamics. This affects them in regards to safety, learning environment, curriculum, language models, access to college and social capital.”

The speaker said that our current educational system is outdated and needs to take into account the integrated global economy. He said the US economy will fail if we do not address the changing educational needs.

In many ways the question and answer period was more interesting, since he relied mostly on a PowerPoint presentation for his talk. The first question that was asked was why US schools are failing. Dr. Suarez-Orozco responded by saying there is too much of a focus on testing and not enough emphasis on critical thinking. He also stated that Schools that have a very clear narrative of purpose, like religious schools, tend to generate better results, although he provided no data or sources for that claim.

The next question addressed the current anti-immigrant climate, particularly in the political class and candidates running for President. He said the political class has been afraid of immigrants in the here and now, but that they always look back fondly on immigrants from generations ago. One hundred years ago there was a panic over Jews and Catholics. Today six members of the US Supreme Court are either Jews or Catholics. There were also huge concerns over communism and anarchism coming with many Europeans. He said the claim was made then that these people will not integrate, but just the opposite happened.

A Native America woman asked how important it was for immigrants to maintain their first language. She said that statistics showed that Native children who lost their language have higher rates of school drop out and teen suicide. Dr. Suarez-Orozco stressed the importance of maintaining the native language of immigrants, but that English proficiency was key to educational advance. Then he made this observation, “the US is a cemetery for language. The more that languages are lost the more we all lose out. Languages and cultures should always be preserved.”