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Celebrate Central’s diversity

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“Imagine if you walk into class on the first day of school, and your teacher tells you that everyone who works hard and tries their best will get an A, unless you are blonde. Then, if you work hard and try your best, the best you can get is a C,” said Noah Lawrence, social studies teacher at Hinsdale Central. He gives this anecdote every year to his African American History class.

“If you’re in the class, but not blonde, you could say, ‘This isn’t my fight, and besides, I’m friends with blonde people and am nice to them,’” Lawrence said. “If you do that, great, you should. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re deriving an advantage from an unfair system. So the people who really care about justice, blonde or not, will fight for the right for everyone to get an A.”

Lawrence has been teaching at Central for seven years, and three years ago he started his semester class on African American History, dedicated to teaching students this exact principle.

“On the first day of class, I tell my students, ‘You’re probably wondering why a black person isn’t teaching African American history,’” Lawrence said. Lawrence explained the origin of his passion, describing how his interest first emerged with Black History in his high school years while learning about the Civil Rights Movement. “To me, it seemed like a case where average, ordinary citizens worked to make the country better – to make the country live up to the ideals stated in the Constitution,” Lawrence said.

By pursuing this interest, Lawrence has managed to hold the attention of pupils taking the course. One of which, Alexis Estes, who is of African descent, finds appeal, relevance, and interest within the class, especially considering that she is able to explore her own family history. “The reason I wanted to take this class is because I wanted to try something new, and I thought this class would be a great way to learn about my heritage,” Estes said. Estes added that she enjoyed learning new things about African American history that other classes don’t cover.

Estes’s opinion of Lawrence’s class seems to be supported by her peers. Kate Ryan, a sophomore who also took the class last semester, also appreciated the knowledge and outlook the class offered. “I absolutely loved that class. It was a great start to my day. Mr. Lawrence really appreciates African American history,” Ryan said.

Rather than solely providing fascination and interest, Lawrence helped Ryan’s personal growth and societal opinions. “He made the class enjoyable because we can all relate to the topics of stereotypes and being treated unfairly. I grew as a student and as a person in this class because I learned to look at people differently and learned a lot about the issues that are still present in our society today,” Ryan said.

Along with teaching the African American studies class, Lawrence also has been involved in Central’s Black History Month celebrations. “The person who started the Black History Month celebrations, Mrs. Deborah Powell, put out an announcement for help, and I responded,” Lawrence said.

Powell, an education services teacher who started the Black History Month Committee at Central when she first started working in the school, created the group with the intention to both inform Central of the event and to also remove any racial misconceptions. “We all have plenty of stereotypes where we automatically assume that people with similar appearances will act the same way. But we have to realize that we are all similar, just with different colors of skin,” Powell said.

Adding on to that notion, Powell mentioned that cultures in general also have their similarities and stressed the importance of informing others about them. From there, Powell invited anyone who was willing to join the committee to help celebrate and teach cultural history and has been successfully managing the group annually for that very purpose.

“This year we really want to expand [the impact] by getting it into all of the classrooms. We would really like to see teachers teaching whatever their fields of expertise are while incorporating famous African Americans who accomplished things within that field,” Powell said. “Our goal isn’t to just have an announcement over the speaker or a ‘Did you know?’ but rather conversations held between students—just so that students can discuss reality.’

Both Estes and Ryan also helped out with the Black History Month Committee’s events, which included an online scavenger hunt, speakers, a poetry slam, and advertising through posters. Speakers included poet Billy Tuggle and Father George Clements. Held during lunch, the poetry slam included students reading poetry by famous black authors. The participants of the scavenger hunt were put in a raffle for a pizza party for themselves and ten friends. There was also a dress up day where students are encouraged to wear red, black, and green.

Estes wanted to help out with the Black History Month celebrations to become more involved and be with people who shared similar interests. “I just really wanted to get involved some more school activities, and since I had so much fun in African-American studies, I took a lot of interest in this opportunity. And it’s pretty fun uniting with other students who feel the same I do about Black history. I’ve had so much fun doing this,” Estes said.

Unfortunately, racism plays a large factor throughout black history. However, within the realm of Central itself, students in school believe that the school tends to be, overall, a very open and accepting environment. “I think that at Central we’re able to come together and learn a lot about each other. And I think Central has a really accepting atmosphere. We have people from many different ethnic, religious, and social groups, and harsh judgment is kept to minimum,” said Audrey Gozali, sophomore.

Estes had similar opinions. “Coming from an almost all black middle school, it’s a shocking change for me coming here. I think that even though my racial group is a minority in this school, Central is a little diverse. Just walking down the halls, I see various cultures and unique people. It’s very nice to experience other cultures besides my own,” Estes said.

Thinking of diversity differently than its typical definition, Lawrence still believes that there is a great deal of diversity despite the statistics. “There is more to diversity than there appears to be. Central is very diverse once you get to know people,” Lawrence said.

Gozali said, “I think diversity is subtle or huge unique differences between people. They may be your cultural differences or differences in your personality or religious differences. And I think Central is pretty diverse. We really celebrate differences with our clubs like GSA, MSA, and the annual culture fest. I’m really glad to be part of such a large melting pot.”

Powell acknowledged the undeniable high white population at Central, but still pointed out that culture transcends appearance. “Even though many students have the same white skin color, there are still so many cultures. There are Irish Americans to Italian Americans to German Americans to Swedish Americans. There is so much diversity than we think because it goes beyond skin color,” Powell said.

She included that since there are so many cultures, each has to be represented, which was part of the reason of creating the Black History Month Committee. Though running the committee has undeniable advantages and clear benefits for the school, Powell once again emphasized the committee’s ultimate purpose and heart.

“I enjoy so much year after year seeing the entertainment, speakers, and people who can challenge, inspire, and lift up Hinsdale Central High School students,” Powell said.

 

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Celebrate Central’s diversity