Racial unity theme of conference
BY KYM SCHUETZ
Students from different schools, cultures gather at GVSU for "Calling All Colors" conference
It was a Mexican Hat Dance of a different color.
Wearing the matching sequin-studded sombrero and bolero was Julian Starr, an African-American student from Steele Middle School in Muskegon. His costumed dance partner was a blond-haired girl from another school.
Following their footwork on stage Friday at Grand Valley State University's Cook-DeWitt Auditorium were 20 peers of every color.
"I didn't feel out of place," said Julian, a sixth-grader. "It's fun knowing enough about another culture to respect it. And it reminds you that they're not weird. They're just different."
The hat dance was among several workshops designed to promote race united for the "Calling All Colors" conference.
The North Ottawa Area Ethnic Diversity Alliance organized the event for 110 middle-school students from Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Grand Haven, West Ottawa and Holland.
The alliance, which formed in June 1996, seeks to teach children ways to bring down racial barriers.
"Twenty-five years ago as I was growing up n the aftermath of the Detroit riots, I thought, 'It's going to be a different world for my children,'" said Gail Harrison, and alliance member from Grand Haven. "But it's not. Comfort between the races has to be built from the ground up."
Educators from each invited school recommended a racially balanced group of student leaders. African-Americans comprised 34 percent of participants; Caucasian students, 30 percent; Latin, 18 percent; Asian, 17 percent; and Arabic, 2 percent.
Students representing each school hammered out action planned for promoting racial unity.
"This is bigger than our school," said Jose Moralex, a sixth-grader at Holland's East Middle School. "Maybe we should do a big, old event in the Civic Center. Let's create anticipation city-wide."
Students from West Ottawa Middle School say administrators could promote understanding among students by allowing all-school dances and other activities. Currently, the 1,450-student school is divided into independently run East and West Houses.
Ambassadors from Holland's East Middle School think the best approach would be making presentations to fifth-graders at feeder schools.
Students from Bunker Middle School in Muskegon say they'll start by inviting classmates to make squares for a giant peace quilt. Students at Grand Haven Middle School plan to write a play bashing stereotypes and perform it during school.
Facilitators included Courtney Penn, former director of multi-cultural life at Hope College; David Douglas, a West Ottawa counselor; Rick Muniz, Holland Public Schoosl facilitator of multi-cultural services; Eduardo Sanchez Rojas, GVSU Office of Minority Affairs; Dan Mack of the American Red Cross of Ottawa County; Jonathan Ogemawkegdo of Newaygo; Pat Ostradick, Ottawa Area Intermediate School District; Aaron Hilliard of D&W and Rev. Ron James, pastor of Grand Haven Outreach Church.
"Change takes time," said Jeannie Starkweather, a Grand Haven High School student who served as mistress of ceremonies. "But if you guys stick together you can make a difference."
The conference ended with students and facilitators joining hands around the clock tower and circling it to the beat of an American Indian drum.
"Calling All Colors" was developed by the University of South Carolina. More than 26,000 students around the world have particpating since 1992.