2008-03-05 Grand Rapids Press "Workshop helps teens explore diversity"

Workshop helps teens explore diversity
By: Aaron Ogg
The Grand Rapids Press

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP – Jasmine Tucker said Tuesday she feels black history and culture do not get enough recognition at her school.

“For next year, I’m working on what I can do to make Black History Month better and more well-known,” said the 17-year-old West Ottawa High School sophomore.

She also wants a better representation of West Ottawa’s Hispanic community. “I hope that our school can learn and appreciate what these months mean.”

Jasmine was one of 130 students from nine Muskegon and Ottawa county schools participating in the first high school Calling All Colors racial unity conference, organized by the Holland-based Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA) and held at Grand Valley State University. GVSU and Hope College co-sponsored the event. “Don’t ever underestimate the power each of you has as one to make a difference,” West Ottawa social worker Sally Woods told students.

For 11 years, LEDA has organized similar conferences for middle school students.

The event was able to expand thanks to a donation from the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area.

“I hope they learn lessons on how to diversity their own world,” LEDA program director Ortencia Bos said.

Participants played games to get out of their comfort zones and encourage teamwork, such as passing a rubber tube around a circle without letting go of each other’s hands.

Students also presented action plans geared toward enhancing diversity education efforts at their schools.

West Ottawa students previously polled their student body to learn more about its thoughts on ethnic diversity. They plan to launch and ethnic talent show next year after 67 percent of students said they would participate. Holland Christian High School students organized an international food fair and have held diversity chapels.

Gabriel Adhikary, an 18-year-old Holland Christian senior, said everybody has tendencies toward prejudice, and these events help to shatter them.

“It’s about respect – respect for each other to build each other up,” he said.