2002-05-01 Holland Sentinel Kids told they can respond to racism

Kids told they can respond to racism
Holland Sentinel

When it comes to influencing the lives and actions of children, its other children who wield most of the power.

Whether ostracizing “different” students who end up retaliating against those who tease them, or convincing friends that people of different races are people too, children are the source of much of what other children learn.

Jodi Andrzejewski, a teacher at White Pines Middle School in Grand Haven, hopes the children she worked with at the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Calling All Colors workshop at Grand Valley State University Tuesday take that message to heart.

“You guys have a lot of power,” she told the group of middle school students who were taking part in her assigned discussion group. “if you’re the one kid who says, ‘Hi,’ or the one who convinces someone not to judge, you could be the one how makes a major different.”

Students from 10 area middle schools took part in the symposium Tuesday aimed at enlightening children about the dangers of racism. They presented action plans designed to combat racism in their schools and watched a video produced by ABC showing discrimination in everyday life.

But it was the dialogue groups, such as the one facilitated by Andrzejewski, that organizers hope to do the most good for children.

“That’s what you really want to see because that’s where the kids really open up and talk about what they see is going on,” said Gail Harrison, the alliance’s executive director. “That’s where the good discussions are.”

The goal of the sessions was to teach children about the various forms of intolerance and discuss ways to respond in such situations. Students in Andrzejewski’s group left their session with open minds and a better understanding of what racism is.

Not all of them weren’t into the sessions with a clue though.

“If I was being followed around in a store because I’m black, I’d say, ‘If you’re going to follow me around, then can you help me?’” a Holland East Middle School student said when commenting on a scenario in which a black man was tailed in a music store. “If not, I’d ask them to follow someone else.”

A student from Steele Middle School in Muskegon balked at the notion.

“I don’t think that would matter,” the boy said,” They shouldn’t think I’m going to steal someone just because I’m black, anyway.”

Bob Medellin, a teacher at Holland East, said the discussion helped him realize that not everyone realizes just what an impact racism can have. If you’re not in their shoes, he said, it’s hard to understand.

“People who aren’t of color don’t experience that things we do,” said Medellin, who is of Hispanic decent.