2006-02-15 Holland Sentinel "Students celebrate unity at Calling All Colors"

Students celebrate unity at Calling All Colors
The Holland Sentinel

Diane Talo began her keynote address to an auditorium filled with young teens with a blast of hip-hop.

As the popular song, "Where's the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas boomed and thumped from large speakers on the stage at the Knickerbocker Theater in Holland, Talo threw her arms in the air and invited her audience, all middle school children, to sing along. Many children ran to dance on the stage.

But Talo quickly changed the mood of her presentation by asking the children to identify three positive and three negative words in the song's lyrics.

Pupils were given the task of finding a partner with skin color different from their own within three seconds and talking about the lyrics. Afterward, Talo read her own word list and asked the children to raise their hands if they thought of the same ones.

"We hear negative words more than positive," she said after looking at the show of hands.

Talo was the keynote speaker for the Calling All Colors all-day conference Tuesday, sponsored by the LakeshoreEthnic Diversity Alliance. Talo works in bilingual programs for Holland Public Schools.

This was the 10th annual winter conference, said Gail Harrison, executive director for LEDA. Ten middle schools, mainly from Muskegon and Ottawa counties, attended the conference, Harrison said. Each school had its own delegation, and about 165 children came to learn about racial diversity and unity.

After the song exercise, Talo explained to her young audience that most people stay in their cultural groups.

"At our schools, we tend to hang out with people who talk like us, who look like us, who have the same vocabulary as us," Talo said. "It's human nature to do that."

Caucasians, those in the dominant culture, have the responsibility to promote dialogue between the races, Talo said."My job as a white person is to make sure that people of color know that doors are open," Talo said. "It's my job. We have to teach each other that the door is open."

Talo has worked for Holland Public Schools since 1995 as a teacher and an administrator. Talo said she has always worked with minority students.

But race relations became especially important, she said, after she taught in California. Talo said she saw how the Los Angeles riots in 1992 affected her students. The riots happened after four police officers were acquitted of using excessive force in beating African-American motorist Rodney King.

"It really impacted my life because I don't want that happening again," Talo said. "The best thing is to make sure this (conference) happens every year."

Key individuals and organizations have improved diversity awareness and race relations in the Holland area, said Ann Weller, co-founder of Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony. The alliance strives to promote the understanding of other cultures.

"It's not a topic swept under the rug so much anymore," Weller said. "I don't think any place is as good as it could be. I don't think Holland is unique, but I do think Holland is trying. All of us can benefit from learning about other people."

Programs like Calling All Colors are important because they focus on children, said Tino Reyes, executive director of Latin Americans United for Progress.

"We're dealing with the youth, and change has to come from them," Reyes said. "We can hope that our young people can make the change so people can live as one."

Talo began finishing her speech by asking the middle-schoolers where the love was. After the whole audience finally shouted, "Right here!" Talo paused.

"You know where else it is?" she said. "It's in your heart."