Officials Trying To Change Perceptions

November 2, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Perceptions that may include the feeling this area doesn’t welcome people of color and isn’t inclusive of minorities are among tendencies the Convention and Visitors Bureau are trying to overcome in its effort to draw more meetings from corporations and religious organizations in southeast Michigan to DeVos Place.

“It is the race thing. It still exists today,” said Joyce Flowers, who operates the bureau’s satellite office in Detroit. “Some of the barriers exist historically and some are from personal experiences.”

The CVB recently held a two-hour workshop at Detroit’s African American Museum for 23 ministers and religious meeting planners to get them more acquainted with the city and to try to douse those heated perspectives that have grown from the east-west political sniping that has split the two regions for decades.

“I think we accomplished our goal,” Flowers recently told the Convention and Arena Authority.

Flowers said Daniel Oglesby was a key contributor to the workshop’s success. Oglesby is corporate vice president of human resources at Spectrum Health, an ordained minister and an African-American. He told the gathering that the city is a welcoming place for minorities.

“He gave a great presentation and was very well received,” said Flowers, also an African-American.

Bureau President Steve Wilson echoed similar comments.

“He really turned perceptions,” said Wilson of Oglesby’s presentation. “We want to take this approach and do these meetings two or three times a year in Detroit.”

The Detroit workshop is part of a continuing effort the bureau has undertaken this year to draw more religious conferences to the city, an attempt that has focused on attracting more minority organizations, and one the CAA has joined.

A few months ago, the CVB hosted ministers from local African-American churches to gain their insights and ask for their help in bringing their state and national denominations here. The CAA held similar meetings to learn what shows would draw minorities to Van Andel Arena and DeVos Performance Hall.

Wilson said religious conferences only make up about 8 percent of the conventions held in DeVos Place.

He sees plenty of room for growth in that sector because the city has the religious resources to assist those groups with their meetings at the colleges and Christian-oriented businesses in the area.

Steve Miller, SMG assistant general manager of DeVos Place, also attended the Detroit workshop and said Oglesby was a convincing speaker.

Flowers, who has been with the bureau for more than two years, said three workshop attendees spoke with her after the meeting about possibly bringing their conferences here.

“Since I’ve been here, I have not experienced a discriminating situation,” she said. “I think things have changed, but perceptions last a long time.”

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