2005-05-05 Grand Haven Tribune "From South Africa to West Michigan: Students learn value of diversity"


From South Africa to West Michigan:Students learn value of diversity

BY GAIL HARRISON
The Grand Haven Tribune

After telling his stories of starvation, despicable living conditions, forced family separation, police beatings, and almost dying after hungry rats chewed on the soles of his feet, South African author Mark Mathabane received a standing ovation from the nearly 200 area middle school students attending the Calling All Colors race-unity conference at Grand Valley State University on Tuesday.

Describing reality for black people under the apartheid system in South Africa, Mathabane encouraged students to learn to look beyond color and embrace the entire human family. Told he was "retarded" because he was not fluent in English, even though he spoke five other languages, Mathabane became determined to master the language. He has now authored over 10 books, all written in English. Students were encouraged to read books and value the educational resources available to them so they can make a positive difference in the world.

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, sponsor of the annual Calling All Colors conference, brought in Mathabane to reward the area students for their diversity work over the year. Much of the day was spent with each school sharing the projects they developed and put in place since the fall conference at Hope College.

Students from White Pines Middle School took trips to learn about civil rights leaders, experience cultures, put oi a play about acceptance of others, and raised funds for LEDA.

Lakeshore Middle School students met to learn about diversity issues, began a dialogue in the classrooms, held a school "Mix:It-Up" day, and held fundraisers for local charities.

St. Mary's Catholic School introduced "10 Ways to Respect and Appreciate our Common Heritage" and presented it to
the school body. The Calling All Colors students also organized and hosted the "Mix-It-Up" day.

In addition to the keynote speaker and presentations of their accomplishments, students participated in a diversity dialogue and cooperative games.

Asked their thoughts about the day, St. Mary's School student Katherine Paparella shared, "It seems like we are the only people in the world, but we aren't!"

Elizabeth Hawthorne from White Pines reflected, "We should appreciate what we have and look at other countries."

In considering how stereotypes affect one's perceptions about people of other racial and ethnic groups, Danielle Voorhies of Grand Haven stated, "Labels are for soup cans, not people!"
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