Lt. Governor Gilchrist asks how Muskegon can be a thriving city

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By Cynthia Price

“What would help you thrive?”

It is not unique to the Whitmer administration, but it is still somewhat surprising when someone from the government thinks to ask a question like that to the people most deeply involved, most passionate, and most knowledgeable – the local residents.

So that is what Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist did when he visited Muskegon last week.

At the Sturrus Center of Muskegon Community College on Friday late afternoon, Gilchrist met with an invited group of many community activists and people who had been working on behalf of the community.

Poppy Sias Hernandez, the local woman who was given the job of Governor Whitmer’s Regional Director for Community Affairs in West Michigan, introduced Lt. Gov. Gilchrist and facilitated the meeting.

Most participants had answered a survey before the meeting to determine what was uppermost in Muskegonites’ minds. Out of five choices – general economic opportunity, kids in cities, environmental quality and justice, transportation and mobility, and affordable housing – the overwhelming weighted ranking went to economic opportunity, with kids coming in second.

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist gave a brief presentation, but then, saying, “We do not have all the answers,”  got right down to asking about the specifics of that number one concern, requesting that people attempt to think in terms of policy and of problems the state government could tackle.

People talked about opioid abuse, the need for healthy restaurant incubation programs, teaching young people both soft and hard skills, encouraging the return of manufacturing firms, the need of people in the business sector to attract and retain talent, and a wide variety of other aspects of economic opportunity.

One of the first suggestions came from Jocelyn Hines, the Michigan Service Award Winner in the youth volunteer category who was profiled in the 8/23 Examiner. She pointed out that she and most of the other members of the Young Black Professionals she started are drowning in debt after being strongly encouraged to go to college. “We can’t even afford to be out on our own,” she said. Hines asked the lieutenant governor to consider incentivizing reverse scholarship opportunities, in which communities pay off part of the student loans for college graduates willing to return to their communities.

Angelita Valdez said that she felt it was often difficult for people to take advantage of new opportunities if they have suffered intergenerational poverty and intergenerational trauma. Her business, Servicios de Esperanza (Services of Hope), offers a wide range of counseling to those who need it, and she has seen the results of such trauma.  Valdez asked that funding be found to help people address their pain in ways that are not destructive, so they can become part of an economic upsurge.

Muskegon City Commission Debra Warren pointed to the negative impact on obtaining jobs suffered by people convicted of crimes, and asked the state to hasten the pace of, in particular, expungements of marijuana convictions for actions that would now not even be criminal.

Business owner/rights advocate Phyllis Loudermill said that she felt the Muskegon area needed to work on its own fairness issues along with asking the state to assist. “There’s no such thing as fair unless the other side is fair,” she said.

Tim Vanderhaar, pastor of First Congregational Church, said that he feels we need a structure that allows us to “approach things regionally,” particularly in work to eliminate inequities.

And newly-elected Michigan State University Regent Brianna Scott said  that when she looked at the sub-commissions of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (a state function), she was surprised to see that – though there is a Hispanic Commission, an Asian Pacific American one and one for women – there is not a sub-commission for African-Americans, and she would like to see that rectified.

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist said that he would take people’s concerns back to the governor, but added that there are already a number of state services that might address some of them. He urged people to speak to their representatives – Terry Sabo was present and spoke briefly – and visit the state’s website to find out more.

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