1999-05-08 Holland Sentinel "Conference shows teens how to get involved to fight racism"

Conference shows teens how to get involved to fight racism
The Holland Sentinel

Jessica Jones of Grand Haven never know how to deal with stereotypes, but after attending the Calling All Colors racial unity conference at Grand Valley State University Friday, she now has a pretty good idea.

The Lakeshore Middle School teen says that she now knows that she has the voice and the self-confidence to fight racism.

Jones was one of 185 students from 12 Muskegon and Ottawa County middle schools to attend the day-long conference to gain a greater understanding of diversity and the barriers that hinder it.

"It built a lot of trust that wasn't there before," Jones said of her experience at the conference. "It's a better feeling, a better perspective on life."

Jones isn't the only student to benefit from the annual conference.

"It's really working to help racial diversity," said Katie TerHaar of White Pines Middle School in Grand Haven. "It's really fund and more people should get involved."

Involvement is one of the main results that Calling All Colors Program Director Gail Harrison is looking for.

"We hope kids gain tolls to take back their schools and make a difference," she said. Harrison also said that part of the problem is understanding that racism still exists.

"The root of the problem is racism and it still exists in many difference degrees. We need to stop the conspiracy of silence around racism."

For three years the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance of Grand Haven has been putting on the Calling All Colors conference at GVSU to provide opportunities for younger students to promote racial healing.

"Racial healing is helping people to recognize that people shouldn't be stereotyped or categorized by other people," Harrison said. "It's learning to appreciate those cultural differences and to recognize and eliminate negative stereotypes, even when are aren't conscious of it."

To accomplish that goal, students broke down into groups of 12 to discuss diversity, stereotyping and racism.

"I think it allowed kids to have an open mind without being ridiculed for it," said Ben Lawrence of Grand Haven Middle School. Lawrence was a leader in a diversity dialogue session.

Following their discussions, the students moved on to activities such as learning Mexican dance, writing poetry or making Native American dream catchers. The students then gave presentation to the whole group on what they had learned. In addition, each school created an action plan for improving racial relations within their communities throughout the year.

"I sense a lot of enthusiasm and I hope that translates into kids going back and wanting ot make a change in their community," Harrison said.