1998-05-11 Holland Sentinel "Local teens learn to fight racism at conference"

Local teens learn to fight racism at conference
The Holland Sentinel


Like so many skills, tolerance is a skill best learned at a young age.

The was the goal of the "Calling All Colors" diversity workshop at Grand Valley State University Friday. About 160 students from eight Ottawa and Muskegon county middle schools, including Holland and West Ottawa, attended the conference.

"I think it's critical if we plan to be successful in combating racism that we start with youth," said Gail Harrison, one of the founders of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which coordinated the conference.

Harrison said the goal of the conference is to develop leaders among students, who will then work within their schools and communities to encourage understanding.

Each school sent 15 students to the conference along with two teachers. The students then went to various workshops where they developed action plans to promote tolerance and racial unity at their schools. Teachers also pledged to help students implement the plans.

The workshop is merely one part of a broad effort, Harrison said. The students have been working for months on projects including so called unity banners, flags and posters which artistically reflect themes of understanding and diversity. The banners were unveiled at the beginning of the conference.

The conference's keynote speaker was Ivy Goduka, an associated professor at Central Michigan University who was born in South African in the dawn of the apartheid era in 1948. She spoke about the need for students to proud of who they are in order to be able to appreciate diversity in others.

"If you don't feel good about yourself, you will take that out on somebody," Goduka said. Her themes included peace, healing, self sesteem and respect.

The conference had a special resonance for West Ottawa schools, where a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse minority population has led to a degree of tension within the district.

"It's a real challenge for us to develop understanding within the district," said Margaret Hudson, a middle school counselor at West Ottawa. "That's why we're hoping to develop leadership skills here."