1997-05-10 Grand Haven Tribune "students break down diversity barriers"

Students urged to break down diversity barriers
Grand Haven Tribune


The music of Native American drums and song was filtering out of the auditorium as the Grand Haven Junior High students pondered why they decided to attend the first local Calling-All Colors ethnic diversity conference.

The usual answers came up: To get out of class. It sounded fun.

As a part of a group designed to be at least 51 percent ethnic minority population, they reflected on diversity.

"AT SCHOOL you just get to see the same people every day ... You don't get to do this every day," said ninth grader Aaron Zimmerman.

Sarah Hall, ninth grade, said she hopes she can learn from the event.

"How to help people learn to tolerate other people," she said.

That's exactly what organizers hop happens as well.

One hundred students from Ottawa County gathered at Grand Valley State University Friday for Calling All Colors, a conference conceived by a 14-year-old student, Anisa Kintz, in South Carolina.

This first local Calling All Colors was organized by the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, and sponsored by Grand Valley, North Ottawa Community Hospital, D&W Foods, Meijer, Christ Community Church, a Native American student organization at GVSU and others.

The event included 100 middle school students from Grand Haven, West Ottawa, Holland, Muskegon and Muskegon Heights school districts. the students were invited to reflect a minimum of 51 percent ethnic minority population.

THAT'S TO help in productive conversation about race, said Gail Harrision, member of the diversity alliance and organizer of the event.

"In order to dialogue about races, you need different races involved," she said.

The opening ceremonies Friday included drumming and song by the Native American group at Grand Valley. That group also donated $400 to sponsor the event, a significant portion of its budget, Harrison said. The students then presented unity banners they constructed in advance to represent how they feel about race.

DURING THE DAY students also took part in cooperative games and arts from other cultures such as African masks and Vietnamese dragon.

In the morning, students met privately in diversity workshops in small groups of about 10 with an adult facilitator. They participated in activities like sharing each other's unique characteristics and discussion of stereotypes.

The keynote speaker for the event was Clayton Hardiman, columnist and reporter for the Muskegon Chronicle.

Hardiman spoke to the students about the importance of listening to each other's diverse stories, and shared one of his own.

Three young teens were in a mall, admiring items they couldn't afford and window shopping. After leaving the mall, they started running, like kids do when they just feel like running. One boy got left behind a litter, and when he caught up to his friends, they were on the hood of a police car.

THE POLICE officers took all the boys back to the mall, and asked a store owner if they had been the thieves.

No, said the store owner. The thieves in question were in their 20s, and over 6 feet tall. The young boys were 13 years old and the tallest one was 5 feet, 9 inches tall.

"They only part of that description that fit them, is both were male. And both were black."

One of those boys was Hardiman's son.

Hardiman told the students not to be afraid of differences.

"Learn each other," he said, "And let other people learn you."

BOB SWANSON, Ferry Elementary teacher and member of ethnic alliance, said he hopes the young people do learn from each other.

"We've all got the same issues," he said. "We're all humans."

Swanson said the conference also is particularly important fro Grand Haven because the area is largely white and the spring brings in Latino migrant workers.

He also said this experience will help break down barriers between the Hispanic students and the rest of the population.

"They don't understand each other."