The room gets quiet after Sam asks, "How would you define discrimination?" Some of the youth slouch in their chairs, while others look up at the ceiling. A few hands slowly, hesitantly float into the air. Sam smiles and calls on a girl with a raised hand. "I think it's when you kind of pre-judge people because they are different than you." "Yeah," says Sam, "that's definitely a piece of discrimination. Does anyone else want to build on what she said?" A few new hands move into the air, a little bit faster this time. "I think its when you give people less things because of their race or gender or whatever," says a young man donning a Giants baseball cap." Yeah," say Sam, "let's build off of that."
As we move through the workshop, twenty youth from a mandatory Life Skills class reflect on what it means to discriminate and what it means to have prejudice. We move from one big group into 5 small discussion groups where, once we all settle in and the chairs stop squeaking, students begin to share stories about times in their life that they were discriminated against. A young woman's brow furrows as she remembers an incident when she was treated unfairly. The students begin to lean into the conversation, sliding to the edge of their chairs as they begin to share about aspects of their identities that are valued unequally by institutions, people they know, people they don't know and even one another. The range of emotion during these conversations is as great as the range of our different perspectives in the world, of the multiple experiences we've been a part of, witnessed, or even imagined. We are not only deconstructing "discrimination," "prejudice" or the "-isms," but most importantly we are helping young people to speak from their hearts, to speak from their own experiences and to listen, to listen carefully to the experiences of others.
Discrimination loses its potent blinding force, its razor sharp edge when we know one another and when we hear one another talk about who we are and what our lives are like. Conversations like this one force young people to challenge their own assumptions about one another and also about themselves. Guided reflection on the influence of external forces such as the media and institutions on a person's understanding of self empowers young people to claim their own identities, while also understanding the complexities of identity within unjust systems. When students see one another for real, when they let down their barriers, a magical thing begins to happen. Yes, you see smiles, tears, laughter, and all of those good cathartic emotions, but you also see students sticking up for one another, you see students speaking up about things that are unfair and you see students, many of the quieter students, reminding one another to speak from their own experience.
This is one of the many ways that Hidden Villa is providing hands-on opportunities for young people and people of all ages to make deeper and more meaningful connections to themselves, to one another and to gain the confidence to see themselves as agents of change. Thank you for your investment in empowering young people of diverse backgrounds to gain the skills, knowledge and open-mindedness they need to navigate the complex social and cultural fabric of their lives and become leaders committed to social justice in their own communities and beyond. Because of your support, we are able to support a continuum of learning opportunities for the next generation of bold and empathetic leaders.
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