Karen Bolsen stepped down last month as chair of the Multicultural Multiracial Community Council (MCMR), but a new challenge continues the Farmington Hills resident's long-time commitment to promoting diversity.
Bolsen has been elected co-chair of the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes (MIAAHC) Subcommittee for Community Response. MIAAHC was formed by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) and the U. S. Department of Justice to focus on the elimination of hate crimes.
Michigan was No. 3 in the nation in hate crimes, which are motivated by bigotry. "Now we're No. 5 or 6," Bolsen said in an interview last week. "We know it's a huge concern."
Bolsen has served as an MIAAHC committee member since 2008. She said the organization developed five subcommittees to fulfill goals set up by the MDCR and DOJ: Community Response, Victim Support, Law Enforcement, Data Collection and Education. The Community Response team serves as support when a hate crime occurs.
"We help the community move forward," Bolsen said. Prevention through educational programs is also a big part of the picture, she said.
"When people learn about each other, what's to hate?" she said.
Bolsen said the work with prevention and activism is similar to what she did with MCMR for 17 years. Through that organization, Farmington and Farmington Hills built relationships among city and school officials, law enforcement, educators and community groups.
"When you build those relationships, you can build a response when something does happen," she said.
The MIAAHC subcommittee is in the process of revising its goals, creating a strategic plan and developing ways to support community groups and to help them be self-sufficient, Bolsen said. "The challenge is always trying to engage communities," she added.
She is helping to organize a September conference that will focus on the work of all five subcommittees, she said. That conference will be held at Michigan State University's Kellogg Center in East Lansing.
Also this year, Bolsen was selected to attend a conference at the Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization that teaches lessons of the Holocaust and fights anti-Semitism, in Los Angeles. The center offers a community training that focuses on awareness and working with state groups, "So when you return to your state, you have a better knowledge of hate crimes," Bolsen said.
"It's also team-building, so you can come back and work on issues in your state," she said. "Any time you have a training like that, it's a reminder of the horrible atrocities we need to eliminate."
Bolsen is also working on a national community engagement project called The New Metropolis, comprising a pair of documentaries funded by the Ford Foundation that encourage discussions on the implications of suburban development, including infrastructure and the segregation created by urban sprawl.
The films will premiere in September in Michigan; Bolsen is the engagement coordinator for Detroit.
"In these times, when we all have limited resources and we know our problems are regional, we can work together to solve the problems of our region," Bolsen said.
Even with all of her new responsibilities, Bolsen said she will remain connected with MCMR. Bolsen grew up in the 1960s hearing her parents and older siblings talking about civil rights. She has worked on migrant labor issues and with the Lansing Native American Center, and she was one of the first women in production for General Motors Corp.
"This is my life's work," she said. "These are all different projects with the same goal, helping the community understand. It's such a fascinating life journey."
To learn more about MIAAHC, visit the group's website.
To learn more about The New Metropolis, visit the project website.