HOLLAND — As communities across the U.S. protest the killing of George Floyd and grapple with the history of black people being killed by police, Holland pastor Denise Kingdom-Grier said America, and Holland, too, needs to look itself in the mirror.


"We're coming to realize that America has never loved black people," Kingdom-Grier said in a conversation with Gloria Lara, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance that was streamed live on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon.


"We've had a real affection for basketball, entertainment, dance, some of those things. But to really love, according to some of the ways that our faith communities and some of our other communities think about love, there just hasn't been such a relationship,“ Kingdom-Grier said.


”So I think it's timely and appropriate for our communities to tend to the 400 years of lovelessness toward black folks, while we've also held this affection that's almost caricaturizing of black experience, of blacks in America."


Kingdom-Grier, lead pastor at Maple Avenue Ministries in Holland, urged white people and church communities to take some time to examine their own histories for racial injustices.


"When you're talking about faith-based communities, our mandate really is repentance," Kingdom-Grier said. "God is always calling us to repentance, and in order to repent we have to stare our sins down until it breaks our heart.


"And when it breaks our heart, then our sorrow leads to repentance, and then we're liberated to action and to really do something out of a place of our own pain, not out of a sense of obligation to some other group. I just think we've got that kind of work to do."



'It could be this city'


Even though the nationwide protests were sparked by an incident that happened states away, black people in Holland fear it could happen here, too, Kingdom-Grier said.


"It's ironic to me that a mantra I continue to hear in the community is, 'Holland is not Ferguson, Holland is not Minneapolis, Holland is not, is not, is not, and therefore this kind of police brutality and claiming of black lives is not going to happen in our city,'" Kingdom-Grier said. "And yet, all of us are now hearing, 'Oh, we're afraid of the looting, that the rioting, that the things that have happened in other cities will happen to us and therefore affect our economy.'“


Holland-area residents protested peacefully Saturday and Sunday — and more are being planned — adding their voices to the national movement of protests against police brutality and racial injustice.


The family and friends of Eladino Fraire, a Hispanic man who was shot and killed by Holland police in 2006, held signs with his picture during Sunday’s protest. They have questioned whether his shooting was justified.


During Wednesday’s conversation, Lara told Kingdom-Grier that in three decades of marriage she has "never been so scared" to let her husband, who is black, leave the house. She said she and her daughter installed a camera in his car so that he would have video documentation “if anything happens.”


What has to change


Kingdom-Grier said her No. 1 focus right now is keeping black people from being killed in America. To do that, she said, communities need to wholeheartedly embrace their black neighbors for who they are.


"When I'm talking about keeping us alive, we need to start seeing our children as children, seeing one another as people and allowing us to express ourselves the way we do," Kingdom-Grier said.


Kingdom-Grier said the community needs to invest in its own diversity to grow its own diverse set of leaders.


The population of the greater Holland area, including the cities of Holland and Zeeland and Park, Zeeland and Holland townships, is 4 percent black, 19 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian and 69 percent white, according to 2018 census data.


"At best, we're going outside our community and bringing people into our community to do it, but we're not investing in our community to do it because in our community, our soil wasn't cultivated to grow people like me.


"The tree is never going to grow me unless there's some seeds and some intentionality in the soil. So part of the work that I'm trying to invite people to do is to expose the roots of the institutions around us. Not for the sake of shame, but we have to dig a hole so we can see the root and say, this is what this garden is intended to grow, and if we want to grow something else, we need to plant something else."


A video of Lara and Kingdom-Grier's full conversation is available on LEDA's Facebook page.


Lara said LEDA is hoping to host weekly talks on Facebook live.


— Contact reporter Carolyn Muyskens at cmuyskens@hollandsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter at @cjmuyskens.