Mich. diversity and equity leader tells MCCC: ‘We have to keep stretching’

·5 min read

Steve Spreitzer, president of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Equity, presented "Becoming an Inclusive Community: Our Journey to the 'Other'” earlier this week. The hour-long virtual program was part of Monroe County Community College’s diversity series. About 25 attended.

Spreitzer has a master’s degree in social work from Michigan State University and also has studied the role of faith and community organizations in advancing social justice. For 30 years he worked with churches. In the 1990's he helped Catholic churches establish a jail ministry in Monroe County. With Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Equity, he helps organizations become more equitable.

His organization’s goal, he said, is to build more allies who care about the “other,” or “those we have been isolated from."

Spreitzer quoted psychologist Willard Allport, ‘If you don’t encounter the other by adolescence, you are at risk of seeing the other as problematic.'

“The more we allow younger people to have diverse experiences, the better they’ll be," said Spreitzer, 65, of Livonia. "We need to build more allies to stand up for the other, the collages who are marginalized and oppressed. We have to be of service.”

Spreitzer showed a Personal Growth Model that outlines four phases: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence.

“A lot of us in the first phase, unconscious incompetence. We don’t know what we don’t know. Start to move from the ignorance that many of us have. How many sit and really hear the life experiences of others?” Spreitzer said.

As an example of the first phase, he mentioned his father, who knew no Black people in his hometown in northern Minnesota. Then, he entered the Navy and encountered people of other races.

“It was automatically conflicting (for him). That’s how I was raised. We all start somewhere. We can all get to the other side of this. We have to keep stretching,” Spreitzer said. “It matters less where you are than where you’re going. When I see people who are very caring about the others, I ask about their parenting.”

One person he questioned was the head of a Michigan State Police post.

“His father made a point to expose him to (diversity). He spent summers in Central and Latin America. He was wired to be caring to the other,” Spreitzer said.

To move up the Personal Growth Model, Spreitzer encourages listening and engaging with others and finding support.

“I encourage people to learn about group (like Monroe County’s CREED, Coalition for Racial Equality, Equity, and Diversity). Who are the partners in your area? Who is available statewide or nationwide?” Spreitzer said.

Zoom participants Carolyn Morrin and Bonnie Weber lamented that it can be difficult to meet people from different backgrounds. To combat that, both joined the Monroe NAACP.

“I was sick and tired of not having an opportunity to meet with and even talk with people who are different from me,” Weber said.

“A lot of us are victims of that form of poverty. We don’t have those relationships, and we are anxious to transcend that. Do not be bound by our zip codes,” Spreitzer said.

Zoom participant and CREED member Florence Buchanan provided data from Monroe County’s 2020 census. The county’s Black population, she said, was 2.3 percent of 154,000 people. Indigenous and Hispanic populations were even smaller.

“Opportunities to interact has been challenging,” Buchanan said.

She recommended get involved in CREED and NAACP.

“You have to have that passion to make a difference,” she said.

Spreitzer also spoke about the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Equity. The organization has been around for 81 years ago.

“We’ve grown. We’ve gone from looking at the individual to looking at systemic racism. We’re trying to get to the deep level. What drives anti-Semitism? How do we get rid of racism?” Spreitzer said. “It’s hard work, but I’ve got a great staff.”

Much of the work involves helping businesses be more inclusive and accepting of all.

“It begins with listening and understanding the baselines, making sure the voices of those most at risk aren’t harmed by people’s bad beliefs and bad actions. Have a conversation with them, develop a strategy for those who are oppressed. Created a pathway for people,” Spreitzer said. “Hold people accountable for their learning. In the organization, have space to have those honest conversations. If we say something (offensive) unconsciously, we would want to have feedback. It’s okay. It’s hard work to really make the change.”

Buchanan wondered if employees in a workplace implementing DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) were just meeting goals or truly changing their beliefs.

“Ask (the other), what is your experience in the organization? That’s when you get the information you really need to see if you’re making progress with the DEI. I don’t think that happens enough. I think DEI is a buzz word,” Buchanan said.

Spreitzer’s presentation also included stories of organizations and agencies he’s worked with over the years.

He encouraged the presentation participants to continue their work.

“It’s an important time for allies, to make yourself known. Don’t be a bystander, be courageous. You’re on the front lines of making Monroe a safe place,” Spreitzer said.

“Make sure George Floyd and (similar incidents) never happen in our community. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing enough,” Dr. Kojo Quartey, MCCC president, said.

This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Michigan Roundtable on Diversity and Equity president speaks at MCCC