'Ugly stuff' spurs move for racial harmony at Joppatowne High

April 17, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

The students at Joppatowne High couldn't ignore the words spray-painted on the front of their school in the fall of 1992 -- "KKK," "White Power," "Go Back to Africa" and "Nigger."

Though the visible signs of racism could be cleaned up, the underlying messages made an impact on the students and staff.

"We saw some ugly stuff on the walls of the school," said Principal Doris Williams. "What it did to the student body can't be denied."

The vandalism also set in motion the formation of a committee of students and teachers to address the issues of bigotry and multiculturalism. Last week, the group -- MILD (Mariners Integrated and Living with Diversity) -- presented its first endeavor, a five-day "Cultural Expo" to encourage tolerance.

"We hope this will be an annual thing," said art teacher Laura Korpela, a faculty leader of MILD.

Monday, at an assembly to open the events, Mrs. Williams praised Joppatowne's cultural mix, which includes blacks, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics.

"We're lucky, because we get a true indication of the real world," she said.

After an introduction by MILD student chairs Monique Thomas ** and Carrie Ridenauer, Tom DeLaine, coordinator of special projects and initiatives for the Baltimore schools, spoke to the 871 students about accepting differences.

"Multicultural education can clear the way for a better understanding between cultures," said Dr. DeLaine, who wore a boldly colored African outfit and a kufi, an African hat.

He stressed the importance of self-respect and respect for others. "The socialization of all people is mandatory if we want to see the human race survive," he said.

"It is not a 'feel-good' or Band-Aid approach. It promotes esteem to all cultures."

After Mr. DeLaine's address, 10th-grader Sharece Feaster acknowledged that there is racial tension in the school, where 20 percent of the students are minorities. "Some people think they're better than others," she said.

Student members of MILD agree. "There are a lot of cliques," said Carrie, an 11th-grader. "You're not accepted if you don't fit an image."

Monique, a senior, said the situation is better than it was when she was a freshman but that racism still surfaces. "It's an attitude," she said.

In some cases, it's more than that. "There are lines drawn," said 12th-grader Mike Brown, explaining that benches at the school are divided into a white side and a black side.

Throughout the week, students participated in events that stressed harmony, including a colored-dot exercise -- based on a Dr. Seuss book, "The Sneeches" -- in which volunteers wore either a purple dot or a silver dot.

"It's a psychology experiment in some respects," Mrs. Williams said.

The purple dots were constantly praised and got special treatment, such as being allowed to be first in line in the cafeteria. The silver dots were virtually ignored and had to clean up after teachers and peers.

"At first, it was fun," said Justin Hunter, who wore a silver dot. "Then it was agitating."

To cap the week, students encountered a variety of groups Friday at a diversity display in the gym that included demonstrations and discussions of ethnic histories. Indian peace pipes, German beer steins, Jewish mandel bread, Taiwanese flags and Ethiopian music transformed the room into a colorful bazaar of cultures and religions.

For some, it was their first introduction to these groups.

"I had no clue till I came down here," Mike Brown said.

Junior Melissa Stokes said it was "something fun to do," but students said the problems won't go away in a week, and maybe never will.

"We don't know if there's a real way to end racism," said Justin. "But we can get along together."

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