1997-05-10 Holland Sentinel "Middle School Students work to break down racial barriers"

Middle School Students work to break down racial barriers
Holland Sentinel


Racism, sexism and discrimination are terms young people have heard before.

But Friday a group of more than 100 Holland, Grand Haven and Muskegon area middle school students got to learn first-hand about students of different cultural backgrounds as well as talk about their own experiences.

"In schools, hundreds of kids are thrown together with no one giving them the skills to work with diverse groups," said Gail Harrison, a member of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance which sponsors the event at Grand Valley State University. "In order to have effective change, we have to start developing their empathy while they are still young."

Holland East and West middle schools, and West Ottawa, Grand Haven, Muskegon and Muskegon Heights middle schools participating in the day-long "Calling All Colors" conference.

Students attended workshops in the morning and discussed concerns and questions about other races, and in the afternoon participating in activities such as ehtnic dancing and art.

"It was fund to get to know people while learning about other cultures," said West Ottawa seventh-grader Kunthea Mai, who helped teach Taotain dance to other students. "They key thing is to start communicating with other people."

"People were saying the most important thing is not to just a person until you really know what they're like," added Farhund Agharahimi, a seventh-grader at Holland East Middle School. "I really felt very comfortable talking with everybody."

The event wrapped up with each school brainstorming about ways to improve race relations in their own communities.

At West Ottawa Middle School, this year students formed a multicultural group, Youth Celebrating Culture. Some of the students from that group who attended the Grand Valley conference said they hope to promote more multicultural events at that school.

"The more people who understand about other cultures, the more we're all get along," said seventh-grader Amelinda Trujillo. "We can be the ones who can start people talking about this."

"The greatest part about all of this is that it's originated from the students," added Holland Public Schools multicultural facilitator Rick Muniz.

The North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance formed a year ago to promote ethnic unity and racial harmony. Students from various ethnic backgrounds where picked by their school to attend the conference.