2000-05-03 Grand Haven Tribune "Students take stage in 'Calling All Colors' event"

Students to take stage in 'Calling All Colors' event

The Grand Haven Tribune

For the past four years, area middle school students have attended the Calling All Colors conference to learn and dialogue about racial harmony and diversity issues. They've enjoyed a day filled with entertaining speakers, making new friends and trying their hand at a variety of cultural activities.

But for the first time Friday, students will take the stage at the conference and talk about what they have done in their own schools to appreciate diversity and the difference it has made.

White Pines, Lakeshore and Spring Lake middle schools will be among those attending the conference at Grand Valley State University from Ottawa and Muskegon counties. The conference is put on by the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance.

"Of all the conferences, and this is the fifth one, this is the one I am most excited about," said Gail Harrison, executive director of the alliance. "It feels like the goals of the conference have come to fruition."

This school year was the first time that the conference was divided into two parts. The first conference was held this past fall at Hope College, where students created an action plan for their school on how to teach their classmates about
diversity. Now after putting those plans into action all year, the students will return for the regular May conference to share the results.

Coordinator of Calling All Colors, Ortencia Ruiz, said that the presentation of the action plans will show how this actually impacts the lives of students, which hasn't been part of the past conferences.

"I think it definitely gives it more of an outcome. Every year we send these kids away hoping that they exercise what they learned in their schools." she said.

Harrison said that during the year, the middle schools brought in speakers, put on skits, made videos or held their own Calling All Colors conference as part of their action plans. She said that the action plan presentations will allow schools to exchange ideas and success stories.

"I think first of all it's going to empower them," she said, adding that each middle school will send 15 students who will address an audience of 160. "I think that's really going to make them feel really powerful."

During the day, the students will also be divided up into dialogue groups to discuss the issues of groups with students from other schools and other races. Harrison said the students will talk about who is included and excluded from groups, why students join groups, the positives and negatives of groups and stereotypes.

The afternoon will also include a keynote address from Oliver Wilson, an African American who attended a mostly Caucasian university in Wyoming and put on diversity dialogues in that community.

Wilson is now the assistant director of admissions at Grand Valley State University.

"I think he's going to be very engaging," Harrison said, adding that Wilson has a humorous speaking style that should appeal to the students.

The students will also be able to experience a different culture by choosing to learn Irish dancing, Mexican fiesta crafts, swing dancing, martial arts, African beading, Native American drum dancing, poetry, how to make a unity quilt, or Latin dancing as part of the conference.