On Friday, May 20 Over 130 high school students from 10 Bergen County school districts attended this year’s Teens Talk About Racism forum o at Fairleigh Dickinson’s Metropolitan Campus. The event was hosted and co-sponsored by FDU’s Office of Global Learning and the Central Unitarian Church of Paramus. Maryann Woods-Murphy, co-founder of Teens Talk About Racism, worked closely with Fairleigh Dickinson to organize this thirteenth installment of the event.
Teens Talk About Racism is a youth leadership conference that engages high school students in dialogue about race relations in the US and that challenges them to think about how they can address racism in their school communities and neighborhoods.
The conference raises awareness about the underlying nuances that uphold systematic oppression on both a small and large scale, and highlights the importance of tackling this head-on.
Diana Cvitan and Dr. Jason Scorza from the Department of Global Learning began the event with a few remarks of their own, talking about the importance of young students gathering together to talk about these topics. Students then broke into 10 independent groups to lead discussions and conversations about racism and how they can address it on an individual level. Students had several icebreaker activities to get things started, and then delved into discussing topics ranging from every day instances of discrimination and prejudice to large-scale institutionalized racism. The overwhelming consensus between students seemed to be that the best way to tackle the issue of racism on any scale is to tackle the socioeconomic factors that fundamentally influence the social and subsequently racial divisions in society. The idea is to start bottom-up. Students worked closely and established valuable friendships with one another, relating to each other through certain experiences or connecting on mutual grounds of understanding – in any instance, students learned tremendously from one another.
This was all reflected during closing session, in which six students from the audience volunteered to gather onstage and answer questions and reflect upon what they had discussed throughout the day. One student pointed out a friend he had made that day in the audience, and spoke about how valuable it was to truly try to understand others and their experiences if they are to address racism at a fundamental level. A student from Bergen Academies added that she found it very valuable to have conferences like this one where these topics can be discussed, and how there should be more in order to create an even bigger impact. Another student made a touching final point: “We always think that we can’t do anything to create change because we are always just one person. But then why don’t we gather together into groups like this one so we won’t be just one person?”
In the final minutes of the conference, Teens Talk shared a tradition of theirs with the audience, encouraging everyone to sing along to “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. In no time, everyone in the auditorium was standing and clapping hands, and there were students and teachers dancing in front of the stage, embodying the principles behind Teens Talk — unity, friendship and mutual respect for all.