Community members gather in Berrien County to discuss ways to end to systemic racism

NOW: Community members gather in Berrien County to discuss ways to end to systemic racism

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich.-- Systemic racism in the twin cities has been an ongoing issue for decades, and today community members took a stand and spoke up for justice and change.

It all started with a march in Berrien County in June, where over a thousand Benton Harbor and St. Joe community members gathered to protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

After that huge turnout, community members gathering again Thursday at the Berrien County Courthouse parking lot to discuss ways to end systemic racism and foster change.

“Some of our community members have experienced some systemic racism going on in our community with our different police departments and with the courthouse,” SHARP Foundation Founder Gwen Swanigan said.

“It happens here, it’s not just across the country, it’s happening right here in Berrien county.”

Community leaders from the twin cities joined the meeting to answer any questions or concerns from community members.

The founder of the SHARP Foundation, also known as the Society Harmonizing Against Racial Injustice, organized the event.

She said that community leader participation is important to create the actionable change they need.

“Now it’s time to bring people to the table to make some things happen, make some changes happen at least get that needle moving towards that change,” Swanigan said.

St. Joe. Public Safety Director Steve Neubecker agrees and believes that change can happen when communities come together, but departments need to as well.

“I think it’s community leaders coming together that can make a change and see what we can do differently to make people feel welcome, new policies, new procedures and put our messages out to the community,” Neubecker said.

“I’ve been trying for 27 years to train our department to assist our department to make things better.”

Community leaders and members are looking to see changes in cities.

“Policy change, and some policies and procedures, racial equity officers, just getting some things in place and a call to action to make sure these things aren’t just being talked about but being worked out and worked on,” Swanigan said.

Community leaders said that they’re happy to see people coming together to demand change and that the will continue to fight for justice.

“It’s great for the community to come together and to realize the historic racism and it needs to change,” Neubecker said.

“They say that the bridge connects us, but I always say it divides us as a people. So it means a whole lot being able to be a voice for the people and stand firm on the changes that need to be made because we do need those changes and we need them fast,” Swanigan said.

Around 60 people attended the meeting, and community leaders hope that this meeting will be the beginning of major change in Berrien County.

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