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New initiative to address the rise in hate crimes

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The YWCA of Kalamazoo is launching a new initiative to address the rise in hate crimes. Michigan has seen the highest increase in hate crimes in the Midwest, and many of them are in Southwest Michigan.

The initiative is called “Project Speak Up”, and it was made possible by an $80,000 grant from Open Society Foundation. The YWCA will use the money to educate the community about hate crimes and let victims know the organization has resources.

Across the country there is a staggering rise in hate related incidents. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center study, just since the November election there have been 867 incidents and 40 of them were in Michigan.

“Hate crimes are not something that’s been directly addressed in this community yet,” said Emily Deering, project coordinator with the YWCA of Kalamazoo.

Deering says Southwest Michigan is no stranger to hate. Back in 2015, 66 offenses were reported. 59% were related to race/ethnicity, 38% religion based, and 3% were connected to gender/sexual orientation. Many of these incidents are happening in schools.

“They’re calling and they’re saying these things are happening in our community, how can you guys support us? And that’s when Project Speak Up steps in,” said YWCA Community Outreach specialist Demetrias Wolverton.

Project Speak Up is partnering with schools and community organizations to educate and provide resources to help victims of hate crimes.

Deering says, “Helping students and administrators and parents and everyone who’s involved in that community to handle that situation, handle that event in a way that’s equitable and effective.”

As part of Project Speak Up, there will be monthly legal and group support meetings for victims.

“We are not going to push an agenda of prosecuting,” Wolverton said. “We’re not going to push an agenda of policing, but we are going to advocate for what’s in the best interest of that survivor.”

Deering says if they don’t address the concerns now, victimized communities will continue to grow.

“So now we have this escalation of violence and tension and insecurity that's going to effect the whole area,” Deering said.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of a hate crime call the Project Speak Up Hotline: (269) 743-9463.

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