In March of 1999, Ms. Joann Malone, a Blair social studies teacher, took several Blair students to Wilson High School to be trained along with over 50 Wilson students. The students were participating in a program to help reduce prejudice called the "Diversity Workshop" which encouraged students to talk openly about themselves and their prejudices about others.
The goal of this program is to help students improve race relations in their schools and in their lives outside school. The problems that are caused by prejudice seem like a knot that not many people would want to try to untie.
Malone brought the Diversity Workshop when she moved to Blair in 1998, after eleven years of teaching social studies at Wilson High School. She is a woman who has dedicated herself to this workshop. "I love doing it. We dig into the problems together, discussing, then we try to solve them," said Malone.
She started running the Diversity Workshop at Blair last year with about eight students who were trained to lead the workshop. Valerie Lewis, Janese Franklin, Renata Jandova and Antoine Diop were the leaders last year. The current leaders are Alexis Bieard-Garner, Worachaya Chaovalit, Hakim Evans, Tedy Bonilla-Parra and Tho Le. These students have found this activity interesting and have a strong desire to increase the growth of the Diversity Workshop.
Bieard-Garner took the leaders training because "there is a lot of information and knowledge that I know that needs to be shared with other people." Also, she added, because "it brings people together from different backgrounds."
The Diversity Workshop, also called the Conflict Resolution Workshop Model, was developed by Cherie R. Brown. The idea is for students to expose and recognize patterns of stereotyping in themselves and in society and to learn methods of seeing similarities between themselves and other people.
During the workshop, the leaders work together as a team to accomplish the goals of the workshop. Each leader has a role in the discussion.
In the room, chairs for about 30-40 students are arranged in a semi-circle. The participants agree to give respect to others and to share experiences without giving names.
There are painful moments, nervous giggles and tough talk. But as the workshop goes on, students open themselves up. Many times, students have tears streaming down as they tell the secrets that they have kept for years.
Once students have attended the workshop, the leaders expect them to better understand their own prejudices. "I want them to have a sense of understanding of each other when they leave the workshop," Bieard-Garner said.
Blair, which has a diverse student body, is a good laboratory for this program. Next school year, Malone will teach a class called, "Honors Seminar in Peace Studies." It was started at B-CC High School 15 years ago under the leadership of Coleman McCarthy.
People involved in this agree that chipping away at prejudice is extremely difficult. The highpoint of the workshop is the stories of each student. Students have the opportunity to see other worlds they have not seen before by hearing the remarkable experiences of discrimination others tell. And when participants find out that there is someone who has had those experiences like them, they feel comfortable to share their own stories, too.
Copyright Silver International Newspaper 2000 (This page was created by Aissata Soumah and Narema Alli.)