Students step into someone else's shoes at Calling All Colors
By GENA KAISER
The Grand Haven Tribune
White Pines Middle School eighth-grader Meagan Johnson came away from the ninth annual Calling All Colors conference with an important message.
"Racism is very wrong' she said. "If we work together and become good leaders or good followers, we can erase racism."
Johnson, who was one of about 165 middle school students from Ottawa and Muskegon counties to attend the racial
unity conference Tuesday, said the conference inspired her.
"I'm really going to try to make a difference," she said.
During the day-long conference at Hope Colleges, students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds came together to discuss race relations and the effects of stereotypes.
They also found out what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes through an exercise called Archie Bunker's Neighborhood. In this exercise, students are randomly assigned a race and given resources to build a neighborhood filled with schools, businesses, churches, homes, and parks.
But the students soon found out that each group was not being treated the same. While the students portraying the
"Caucasian" group were given more resources and opportunities to complete the task, other groups struggled with fewer
resources and faced discrimination.
Gail Harrison, the executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which puts on the conference, said she hopes the exercise helps students "to understand that all things are not equal in our society."
"How does it feel to be treated less than fair?" she said, adding that students then talked about nonviolent ways to reverse the pattern of discrimination.
Hope international students and members of local community organizations taught the students some of the dances,
songs and activities of other cultures. Some of these activities included Ethiopian, Native American, Nepalese and Kenyan dancing as well as Chinese and Japanese songs and Capoeira Mandinga, a Brazilian martial art.
Students also heard from keynote speaker Jeff Ebihara, a private business person and clerk-elect for- Park Township, who spoke on the Japanese-American internment during World War II. He spoke to the students about how both of his parents were internees in the Japanese-American "relocation centers" on United States soil during the war.
After the conference, students will work on racial harmony action plans in their own schools and communities. White Pines Middle School students plan to create a video about the importance of cultural diversity and post diversity quotes in the cafeteria.
Lakeshore Middle School students will celebrate holidays of different cultures and read books on diversity. St. Marv's
Catholic School students will hold a potluck to celebrate their ethnic heritage.
The students will return to the Calling All Colors conference at Grand Valley State University in the spring to report on their success.