1999-05-08 Muskegon Chronicle "Racial unity conference brings students together"

Racial unity conference brings students together
Muskegon Chronicle

Frances Briseno hopes to see the day when there is no more need for racial unity conferences like the one she attended Friday at Grand Valley State Unviversity.

For now, though, the seven-grader at Holland's West Middle School says efforts such as "Calling All Colors" are necessary to help break down racial barriers between students in school.

"I think it's kind of cool because you have all these different races come together," Briseno said. "There's no talk of stereotypes, there's no fights, there's no talk of east or west or what color you wear ... we're all having fun."

Briseno's classmate, Eric Johnson agrees. "It was fund. it was time well spent," he said.

About 190 students from 12 middle schools in Ottawa and Muskegon counties attended the third annual conference. School districts included Holland, West Ottawa, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights and Reeths-Puffer.

"Calling All Colors allows students of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to talk and work together to promote racial harmony and healing, said Gail Harrison, executive director of the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which sponsors the conference.

The conference mixed fun activities, ranging from swing dance lessons to writing poetry, with opportunities to gather in small groups and talk frankly about racial issues in their schools. As part of the conference, students from each school were to develop an action plan to improve racial harmony.

In the case of West Middle School students, their action plan included showing a video of their activities at Calling All Colors to their fellow students, demonstrating that racial barriers can be broken down.

"We want to show (people) that it doesn't matter what color your are or how you look," Briseno said. "We want to show how we got together and had fun without (showing) prejudice."

Briseno and Johnson agree that educating students on racial harmony is so important, they think the conference ought to include students getting ready to enter middle school.

"(Having) fifth-graders would be good, because they're getting ready for middle school and Iit'll help them) know how to handle these (situations)," Briseno said.

Other ideas proposed by students included in-school assembles and community outreach programs.

Next school year, Calling All Colors will expand to two conferences. The first, to be held October 19 at Hope College, will give stupids a chance to form action plans in their schools. Harrison hopes to line up interns from Hope College to serve as advisers to the kids.

The second conference, to be held in May at GVSU, will give students a chance to evaluate what they've done at their schools and celebrate their successes, Harrison. said.