Celebrating Our Diversity

Carla Rodriguez, a student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, attended the same seminar as Claude. Unlike Claude though, Carla had never actually experienced prejudice first hand. She says she'd seen it and knew it went on, but really didn't understand how much it existed until after attending the conference. The reality was brought home to Carla through the unique interactive nature of the conference. Participants are taught through videos and experimental exercises that stimulate the "-ism's". The "-ism's" Carla explains, are class-ism, racism, religious-ism, sex-ism and age-ism. We get to experience them personally so we can see how it feels. "It makes it so vivid", she commented. "I mean, the activities really open your eyes a lot to what's going on, and I realized that I, too, have been a victim of intolerance and didn't know it".

Claude, who had initially pictured sitting through some boring classroom lectures for two days, was pleasantly surprised by the format of the workshop. "I wasn't bored for a minute. The best part for me was when I had to get in front of the whole group and tell my story. I've always been a little shy, but I felt so accepted right then. It taught me that it's okay to express how I feel because everybody is going through something. I'm more at ease with people now".

These Heritage Panels are held several times a year all over the country. De Palazzio brought the Heritage Panel program to the Broward / South Palm Beach branch of the NCCJ. "I have always had an interest in social justice, and this is right in line with my background as a teacher and school board member". De says it's vital that the teens in each training seminar represent many different races, ethnicity's, and religions and that there be an equal number of boys and girls. "Diversity," she adds, "is all important. Students are taught that their differences are neither good nor bad, but something that makes us all stronger. Nobody is born with prejudice," De says, "it's learned". Our diversity is a source of richness in American life and is something we should all be celebrating and embracing".

Transforming discord into cooperation and generating a national unity based upon respect may seem a lofty goal, but Carla brings it down to Earth. "It's just kids helping kids", she notes. A shining example of bettering the world through that simple, yet powerful phrase: "each one touch one".

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