In a unique celebration of multiculturalism, a diverse group of Hickory Ridge students take on issues of discrimination, build a sense of unity at the school

It is a rare opportunity these days that I get to spend half my day working on a single story. With so many things going on, I rarely get the opportunity to spend the time I’d like working on a single piece.

This week, however, I made time.

I was invited to a leadership conference hosted by the Multicultural Club at Hickory Ridge High School.

Honestly, my expectation was that this would be a quick, in and out assignment, with colorful pictures from booths run by students offering insight about various world cultures.

What I found was quite the opposite — a group of about 100 students, hand selected to take part in a program aimed at breaking down barriers by promoting open and honest discussion about issues that divide us.

At first, the idea seemed optimistic, getting teenage students who didn’t really know that much about each other to open up on issues like racial discrimination and hate speech. In most instances, it’s a far-fetched task.

For whatever reason, my preconceived notions of high school students and their willingness to open up was shattered as I spent the better part of an hour listening to a group of about five students — of various backgrounds — sharing personal stories of discrimination and brainstorming ways they could make a difference during an exercise entitled “if you really knew me.”

Of the many lessons learned in the classroom, knowing the difference between a siesta and a fiesta aren’t necessary the ones that will move mountains. On the other hand, teaching our children about celebrating diversity rather than being divided by it is a lesson that will likely serve them well in the years to come. 

To those who took part in the program, if you really knew me, you’d know that I was deeply moved by your open discussion and extremely impressed with your desire to build a future based on equality and unity.

Jonathan E. Coleman

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