Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Richardson: A Passion to Work

June 30, 2008

Grand Rapids Business Journal

Attorney Kimberly Richardson knew at age 17 that if she was knowledgeable, prepared and clear about what she wanted to do in life, the world would be her oyster. Just two years out of law school, this young associate attorney at Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett is already shaking things up.

Richardson had made a mark since joining Varnum in September 2006. She conceptualized and drove a number of diversity initiatives at the firm, some of which were noted when Varnum received the 2008 Law Firm of the Year Award from the Diversity Services Office of Michigan State University College of Law and the Wolverine Student Bar Association. She also organized a breakfast series to bring minority construction business owners together with some of the area's largest contractors.

Richardson describes herself as a "prudent risk taker" who is very analytical and likes logical reasoning. She's quick to label herself " a talker," too. She's not one to waste time: Just 31, she already has a "bucket list" and is determined to check off every item on it. She writes poetry, is working on a novel and plays guitar - a skill she recently acquired. Learning how to play the guitar was one of the "to do" things on her bucket list.

Richardson earned a B.S. degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1999 and went to work for Watson Wyatt & Co. in the metro Detroit area. There, she did annual actuarial valuations and complex data analysis for defined benefit retirement and retiree medical plans. The company was great, she said, but the work was a little too staid for the outgoing and energetic Richardson.


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Opening Doors

June 30, 2008
Grand Rapids Business Journal

GRAND RAPIDS — Today's opening of Spectrum Health's Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion marks what Richard Ortega hopes is a new beginning for minority contractors in Grand Rapids.

Ortega is president of Alternative Mechanical Inc., which handled $2 million in plumbing work at the new facility. Spectrum Health set a goal of 15 percent participation of minority-owned firms in the construction project, and to date has reached the 12 percent mark, said Steve Coates, Spectrum Health's director of design and construction services.

"It was huge; it was enormous in lieu of the effects of Proposal 2. It was really a good statement for the community," Ortega said. "We were experiencing some growth as far as having minorities on construction sites. That really took a backward hit with Proposal 2."

Although health care construction is one of the bright spots for a beleaguered industry, Ortega said, Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action in public construction projects, has strangled the ability of minorities to take a piece of the pie.

Commitments from organizations such as Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute to use minority enterprises are important to keep jobs and dollars flowing across social sectors, said Ortega, also president of the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association.

Todd McLemore and the three employees of his painting and wallpapering business provided labor worth about $38,000 as a subcontractor of Dave Cole Decorators, painting walls and stairwells.

"A lot of the bigger companies don't have to use us," McLemore said, adding that contractors find it easier to work with the same subcontractors over and over again. "Just to get that opportunity, being a small company, to work on a project of that magnitude … They even talked about subbing us some work that's not DDE or minority. That's worth it, when you get on a project, work your heart out and people notice."

Ortega said his company already had a relationship with contractor River City Mechanical. "They were kind enough to ask if we would consider submitting a plumbing bid on that project, so we did," said Ortega, who also chairs the 55-member West Michigan Minority Contractors Association.

Alternative Mechanical installed water closets, sinks, faucets, copper water piping, sump pumps on the roof, and the waterfall in the pavilion's lobby, he said. The four-year-old company, which employs 35 people, also has handled installations at five Grand Rapids Public Schools, Ortega said. His business partner, Kevin Fahl, is vice president.

"I'm happy to say a driving force for us to start our business was so we could open doors to recruit minorities and teach them the skilled trades," Ortega added. "In all honesty, the most rewarding part of being a business owner is to be able to change and to give somebody a paycheck and know that now that person is able to make a house payment, a car payment, buy groceries for their family."

But since Proposal 2 was passed in November 2006, Ortega said, fewer minority contractors have been able to do that. While overall statistics are elusive, he pointed to information from the city of Grand Rapids for 2007.

Minority business enterprise subcontractors fell from $2.6 million, or 5.8 percent of all construction contracts, to $1.45 million, or 2.2 percent of contracts, even though the numbers of construction projects and subcontracts both grew, according to city statistics.

"What made it more appealing for the contractor to work with us was that there were incentives to do so," Ortega said. "Those incentives are removed, and people are reluctant to feel they have to work with us."

Coates said Spectrum's commitment to minority contractors stems from the organizational culture change being led by the nonprofit's Diversity Council. A subcommittee is focused on the health system's supply and construction activities.

Coates said he works with about 20 groups, such as the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, to spread information about how to do business with Spectrum Health and to identify potential subcontractors.

"Networking is only part of it," Coates added. "We discuss strategies, what other companies are seeing, results based on what they've implemented, challenges. We challenge each other in a positive way."

The 15 percent minority contractor commitment is across the board, he said, not only for the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, but for the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, the Blodgett Hospital renovation and expansion project, and for the everyday projects that are constantly ongoing in the health system.

"It's getting to be exciting to watch as different companies step up to the plate with Spectrum Health," Coates said. "The goal is for them to be able to hold the contract themselves. We're looking at long-term sustainability." BJX

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Imagine Fund can help level the field

May 27, 2008
Detroit Free Press

When Michigan voters in 2006 overwhelmingly agreed to ban affirmative action by passing a proposal called the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, they could not completely slam the door on people who see the value of diversity in higher education and want to do something about it.

One such something is aptly named the Imagine Fund, a new nonprofit that works with donors who want to fund scholarships that are purposely designed to advance minority students at Michigan colleges and universities.

"We're trying to make a pitcher of lemonade out of the lemons of Proposal 2," said Imagine Fund President Nanette Reynolds, a former director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights under both Republicans and Democrats.

Established through a $175,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation, the fund's goal is "to keep the doors of opportunity open for those whose race, color, sex, ethnicity, national origin and/or cultural characteristics may otherwise limit their path."

The approach is to link donors interested in establishing scholarships with qualified students and then distribute those gifts. Think of it as a scholarship management fund with major potential to help level the playing field of higher education in Michigan.

The limits that public colleges and university must live with under Proposal 2 fortunately do not extend to private citizens still committed to investing in diversity. The law also does not bar the creation of private, third-party groups designed to distribute scholarships based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

Undoubtedly, arguments will be made that the Imagine Fund is an attempt to undercut the will of the majority of Michigan voters. But this is a wholly private undertaking, allowing concerned citizens to not only imagine, but to invest in a Michigan where access to higher education is seen as a benefit to all.

Learn more about the Imagine Fund on the Web at http://www.theimaginefund.com/.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sharpton organizes meeting on race issues

But many suburban leaders can't attend because of an event on Mackinac Island.

May 22, 3008
The Detroit News

DETROIT -- The Rev. Al Sharpton plans to tackle thorny racial politics between Detroit and its suburbs during a private conference of government officials and community leaders next week.

Sharpton's group, the National Action Network, has invited city and suburban leaders to the Leadership Meeting on Wednesday at Second Ebenezer Church, 14601 Dequindre, to address many issues affecting Metro Detroit.

But the single issue of race tops the list, said Caree Eason, president of the National Action Network's Wayne and Oakland County chapter.

"We are going to be addressing racial profiling and police brutality going on in the city and the suburbs," Eason said Wednesday. "We're going to ask officials if they know what is going on and let's talk about it.

"What we're saying to them is that, 'We want to build an alliance with you to work on the issues that plague the region.' "

The suburbs, Eason said, aren't used to dealing with social injustice.

"We're so divided here in Michigan," she said. "Divided as a people, divided in leadership. Everyone has their own agenda."

Eason says she has sent out "thousands" of invitations to Metro Detroit officials urging them to attend the conference, but few have responded. Those who have say they have scheduling conflicts with next week's annual Mackinac Leadership Conference.

N. Charles Anderson, the president of the Detroit Urban League, said he, too, will miss the event because he will be at the Mackinac conference. But, said Anderson, some government leaders' reluctance to attend the National Action Network's conference is because Sharpton might not be the type of person that politicians normally interact with.

"But perhaps some of them should," said Anderson. "They have to get out of their comfort zone some time or other."

Anderson said race is an issue that continues to require attention.

"It's something that will continue to be discussed again and again," said Anderson.

A rally will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at New Providence Baptist Church, 18211 Plymouth Road. It is open to the public.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Conference to focus on benefits of diverse workforce

May 19, 2008
Crain's Detroit Business

A diverse workforce can positively impact a company's bottom line, according to a number of local companies.

They'll discuss their diversity efforts and the impact they've had during “Innovation Through Diversity,” the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion's fifth annual conference June 12.

Sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable, the Detroit Regional Chamber and Crain's Detroit Business, the conference will include a local panel with representatives from Lear Corp., Plunkett & Cooney P.C., and Henry Ford Health System.

“Research shows that a diverse workforce gets assigned tasks and projects more efficiently and more creatively than nondiverse teams,” said Thomas Costello, president and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable.

With a diverse workforce, a company has different points of view, different solutions and different frames of reference, he said.

“There are more pieces to the puzzle, and that's how (issues) get solved.”

Costello, who joined the roundtable in March, previously spent 24 years at Compuware Corp.

“The success of that company is driven on that technology, which was created by its diverse workforce,” he said.

Susan Molinari, president and CEO of the bipartisan lobbying firm the Washington Group and a member of Toyota Motor Co.'s diversity advisory board, will present a global corporate perspective on diversity and inclusion as the luncheon keynote speaker.

Also speaking is Amri Johnson, executive vice president of Atlanta, Ga.-based Cook Ross Inc., an organizational development consultancy specializing in diversity.

Johnson will discuss how companies can measure diversity and innovation, build diverse teams and incorporate diversity and inclusion into to their strategic planning.

The event takes place at the MGM Grand Detroit, with registration opening at 7:30 a.m. and a closing networking reception at 4:30 p.m.

The cost is $195 per person. For more information, call (313) 446-6078 or visit www.crainsdetroit.com/events.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Neo-Nazis looking for you

Diversity, economy can aid in recruiting

May 12, 2008
Detroit Free Press

On a dead-end street along Detroit's fringe, the leader of America's largest neo-Nazi group is scheming to exploit the region's economic unease.

Jeff Schoep, commander of the National Socialist Movement, said he's undeterred by the area's large African-American and Jewish populations since moving his group to the area in December. In fact, he said, the diversity and distress of metro Detroit makes it ripe for recruitment.

"Detroit's a big city, and the economy is not real good," he said. "Anywhere the economy is bad, people are looking for answers. And I think we provide some."

Jack Kay, a University of Michigan-Flint professor who has studied racist groups, said, "These people can be incredibly savvy" in spreading their message.

But first, Schoep -- whose group uses a Detroit post office box -- must secure his position as the area's preeminent f├╝hrer. In another part of metro Detroit, a rival is trashing his group.

"We at the ANP never had anything to do with them, and we never will," Paul Kozak, chief security officer of Westland-based American Nazi Party, wrote in an e-mail.

Kozak's group, which arrived in the late 1990s, dismisses the National Socialist Movement as outside the mainstream of neo-Nazis. Kozak said his group, by contrast, wants "to be like the Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, and so on."

The National Socialist Movement, or NSM, is best known in these parts for its 2005 march in a racially mixed neighborhood in Toledo that ended in rioting, and a provocative 2006 rally in Lansing.

With a few hundred members, it's the largest Nazi organization in the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

Schoep, 33, arrived from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He has been monitored by the law center since at least 2004, when the center, which tracks extremists, tabbed him as one of "40 hate-mongers to watch."

But Schoep is far too busy to engage his critics. He lives in a Macomb County home he shares with a girlfriend; he spoke on condition that the town not be mentioned.

He had been preparing for an anti-immigration rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Three arrests, all counterprotesters, made the event held on the weekend of Adolf Hitler's birthday -- he was born April 20, 1889 -- a resounding success for Schoep's group, which thrives on the confrontation that a band of neo-Nazis waving red swastika flags and chanting tends to provoke.

Schoep rejects the label of a hateful agitator reveling in the dogma of a murderous regime, saying, "We're 100% legal. ...We do things by the book."

In Washington, he noted, his group marched with a legal permit, while counterdemonstrators were arrested for fighting with police.

Philosophically, he concedes, "We do like Hitler and the way he ran the government," but it's "a misconception that we are bigoted."

He said he's after "warrior archetypes," like the men of the Alamo and Valley Forge, men he said will fight for white workers and oppose immigration, Communists and Jews.

He said his group "continues to grow all the time."

That remains to be seen.

In the late 1970s, Detroit police had to stand guard around a Nazi-oriented bookstore that opened on West Vernor. The operation was evicted as several hundred protesters chanted to throw the Nazis out.

Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, said publicity draws neo-Nazis to metro Detroit: "They think being in Detroit will give them more exposure."
He said skinheads have visited the center, only to have some members chastened and transformed by what they see.

But Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that even if the movement is only a couple of hundred people strong, it can't be easily dismissed. "All these groups are relatively tiny, but the reality is that a very few people can cause enormous harm," he said.

T. Jean Overton, whose Toledo neighborhood is still rebuilding from the riots, agreed.

"We fought World War II to defeat the Nazis and their philosophy," said Overton, 79.

"Life is too short to create hatred," she added. "In the end, it will destroy him and others."

Contact JOE SWICKARD at 313-222-8769 or jswickard@freepress.com.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Group fails to get enough signatures for anti-affirmative action amendment

May 4, 2008 - The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY A group seeking to bar many state affirmative action programs has missed a Sunday deadline to submit its initiative petition.

Missouri had been one of five states California businessman Ward Connerly and his supporters had targeted for an effort to strike down affirmative action laws.

The Missouri effort for a constitutional amendment was led by Tim Asher, a former admissions director at North Central Missouri College in Trenton. Asher said it became obvious on Saturday that there were not enough signatures to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the ballot, and he pledged to try again in 2010.

Asher estimated supporters gathered 170,000 signatures — which is enough to make the ballot. But he said it wasn’t high enough because many signatures are later disqualified.

It takes between 86,000 and 95,000 signatures for a petition that creates a new law, and from 140,000 to 150,000 for those that change the state constitution.

Connerly predicted Sunday that supporters would have collected enough signatures if they had another two weeks.

“This is a marathon and not a sprint, and it’s far from over,” Connerly said. “There is a lot of support in the state of Missouri.”

Supporters from four groups angling to get their initiative petitions on the November ballot did hit the Sunday deadline. They wheeled in dollies stacked with boxes that were filled with petitions and tens of thousands of signatures.

As many as six groups had been expected to submit petitions, but only four had done so by the deadline.

Arriving within 15 minutes of each other Sunday were groups pushing petitions to change the state constitution to restrict the use of eminent domain and to require the use of more renewable energy.

Earlier in the week, petitions to allow home health-care providers to unionize and to repeal the state’s cap on gambling losses while barring the construction of new casinos were submitted.
The affirmative action petition had been among the most controversial, triggering lawsuits from Asher and critics challenging the fairness of a ballot summary authored by the secretary of state’s office. A state judge later rewrote the passage that would have appeared before voters at the polls.

Asher and Connerly attributed the difficulty in collecting signatures to the court battle. They both called for changes in how initiative petitions are handled in Missouri.

“We effectively lost our right to bring to the voters of Missouri whether they felt race-preference policies were positive to the state or something that needed to be eliminated,” Asher said.

Connerly said cold, rainy weather and “blockers” who trailed signature-gatherers also made it difficult to get enough Missourians to sign.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan said the office stands behind the ballot summary it wrote. Spokesman Ryan Hobart said Asher had as much opportunity as everyone else to submit his petition by Sunday’s deadline.

WeCAN, a coalition of community, religious, labor, business and education leaders that was created to oppose the affirmative action petition, said not filing any petition was the best outcome.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now’s chief organizer in Missouri, Jeff Ordower, said the inability to get enough signatures also was “a movement for equality” in Missouri.

“We thought it would be close,” Ordower said. “We thought they would submit and not have enough of a margin. We didn’t imagine they wouldn’t submit at all.”

The petition had prompted Connerly, a former University of California regent, to speak several times in Missouri. Connerly had said he wants to end “race-based affirmative action” and replace it with “socio-economic affirmative action.”

California, Washington and Michigan already have approved ballot measures backed by Connerly. Besides Missouri, he is supporting similar efforts in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Supporters from the four groups that submitted petitions said they got far more signatures than what they needed. Election officials have until Aug. 5 to certify whether the measures make the cut.

Ron Calzone, a spokesman for the group trying to get two eminent domain petitions on the ballot, said volunteers had been working all week to organize petitions for proposed constitutional amendments that would bar the use of eminent domain by non-government entities and for private use.

Calzone said the importance of private property rights helped fuel weary supporters who had to use less sleep-deprived designated drivers. He said he expects to have to educate voters and combat critics willing to spend a lot of money to fight their petitions.

But first, Calzone said, will come “a break, a nap and then we’ll continue our public education efforts.”

Arriving as Calzone was leaving, P.J. Wilson estimated 170,000 people signed his group’s petition that would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from sources such as wind and solar power. Wilson said that included at least 10,000 signatures last month on Earth Day.

Alphonso Mayfield, a spokesman for the group that submitted the home health care petition, estimated it submitted about 200,000 signatures Saturday. He attributed the support to Missourians’ concern about health care.

“Health care is an issue that resonates with a lot of people,” Mayfield said. “It allowed us to talk to a lot of people.”

In 2006, six groups submitted signatures, but only three made the ballot. Five initiatives appeared on the 1940 ballot — the most ever — but the only one that passed was a constitutional amendment creating an appointment system for certain state judges.