Students do honest, painful sharing at leadership conference on race 300 high schoolers attend event at WMC

skits portray issues

March 18, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The subject was discrimination. The discussions were honest, personal and sometimes painful.

But those who attended the Multicultural Leadership Conference Western Maryland College yesterday believe that such discussions are necessary for tolerance and understanding to flourish.

More than 300 local high school students participated in the conference, the second sponsored by Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality and the Carroll County public schools, where minority enrollment is 4 percent.

The daylong event featured dramatic presentations, small group discussions and a "stepping" performance based on African dance movements by a group from Bowling Brook Preparatory School, a residential facility near Westminster that is licensed by the state Department of Juvenile Services.

"I think it's really good that people open up," said Jennifer Ham, 15, a student at South Carroll High School.

"I think it's good that they've gathered people to share ideas about what we can do to further racial equality."

Ham said she thinks most students will leave the conference with different thoughts about judging people based on appearances and stereotypes.

"There was one girl [in a discussion group] who is biracial and said that her aunt doesn't like her because her father is black. I think people will carry that with them and think about it," she said.

The conference began in Decker Student Center with an introduction from Virginia Harrison, president of Carroll County Citizens for Racial Equality. The volunteer organization was formed in 1992 in response to a Ku Klux Klan rally in the county.

"This is a very important thing we are doing here," Harrison said. "What goes on in this room you will carry for the rest of your lives. Racism is a very painful thing."

Foolproof, an improvisational theater group of Carroll high school students, performed skits dramatizing racial issues.

In one presentation, the students portrayed parents arguing with their daughter, "Emily," over her friend, "Nicki."

"Listen, Emily," the father character says, "we're not too sure about this Nicki girl, we don't think she'll be a very good influence on you."

"You've never had any problem with any of my other friends," Emily responds. "Is this because Nicki is black?" she asks, prompting nervous laughter from the audience.

Another presentation addressed the subject of interracial dating. The skit depicted a brother talking to his sister about her black boyfriend, "Chris."

"You can't date him. It's not right," the brother says. "He's a nice guy, I'm friends with him. No white guy is going to date you 'cause they're going to think you're dirty."

The last line drew gasps from the students.

Later, in discussion groups of about five people, students wrestled with questions such as: What is racism? What are your prejudices? What stereotypes do you have?

One group tried to answer the question, "What does it mean to be white in America?"

"I feel I got the same chances as everybody else does, take them or don't take them," said Randy Diehl, 16, a white student at North Carroll High School.

Gary Stevenson, 18, a student from Bowling Brook who is black, said that whites have advantages in the job market.

"I might have more qualifications, but the whole law firm might be white, and it's going to be harder for me to get a job," Stevenson said. "I've got to work harder and prove myself, because all eyes are going to be on me."

In other discussion groups, a Westminster High School student wondered why all the cheerleaders at her school are white. A girl from North Carroll High School observed that racism exists among blacks as well as between black and whites. One student suggested becoming pen pals with "inner-city" students as a way to combat racism.

"This whole event is to raise the consciousness of students so that they can be a catalyst for change," said the Rev. Robert Walker Jr., pastor at Union Street United Methodist Church in Westminster and a member of Carroll County Citizens for Racial Equality.

"These kids are going out in the world, and if we can get them to begin to take a look at what they do within the world around them, they can see they can make that change," Walker said.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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