2000-05-06 The Lakeshore Press "Students take real steps towards racial harmony"

Students take real steps towards racial harmony
The Grand Rapids Press

In a day devoted to diversity, students learn dances and discuss racial stereotypes.

It could have been a video clip taken from anywhere: several minority youths running, a police officer chasing after them.

It's not hard to imagine what might be happening: They probably stole something.

Maybe they were in a gang.

Perhaps they had drugs.

Watch a little longer and those assumptions quickly disappear as the tape shows a friendly foot race between the children and the officer.

"We made it look like we were criminals, but we really weren't," said Dominique Delgado, a student at Holland West Middle School. "We wanted to show that it isn't always what it seems."

Delagado helped several of her classmates produce the stop-action video skit for sixth graders at her school to demonstrate the impact of negative stereotypes.

The production was just one example of the results of the year-long "Calling All Colors" program designed- to help students develop a new view of diversity.

Since 1996, the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance has been organizing the program to promote racial harmony through education and cultural understanding.

During a wrap-up session Friday at Grand Valley State University, 180 participants from 12 schools discussed what
they had accomplished in the past year. They also learned about different cultures during workshops on poetry, Irish and Latin dance and African beadwork, said organizer Ortencia Ruiz
Grand Haven High School freshman Adrian Garza, part of Grand Haven's Courage Program, said the conflict resolution skills she has learned have helped him resolve disputes with others peacefully.

"We have learned how to deal with other people who are being racist and how to be appropriate about it," he said.
"Not confrontational."

After spending an hour learning a few basic steps for an lrish jig, Fruitport Middle School student Erik Fetters said it is
important for everyone to learn that some differences - whether they are dances, crafts or religious practices - can be good.

'"Whenever somebody says something about someone in another group, I ask if they really know that person," Fetters
said. "Usually they are Just speechless after that."

He thinks the message gets through.

"When students tell other students something, it's more effective," he said.