November 16, 2011 - It's never to early in the morning to learn a valuable life lesson.
OHS students and teachers discussed race issues as part of a DECA project. Photo by Andrew Moser. (click for larger version)
Oxford High School students rolled out of bed and came in before school on Wed., Nov. 9, the school's scheduled late start day, to learn about the importance respecting each other's culture as part of a DECA presentation by members Leah Paul and Lindsey Keenist.
Paul and Keenist, seniors at OHS, shared with students their DECA project "Curing the Disease of Racism."
They featured guest speakers Cam Underdown and Kellen Brooks from Detroit Reverse, an organization seeking to tear down racial and cultural boundaries among today's youth and bring them together in an atmosphere of unity and serving.
"For you guys to come out here and be a part of what today is going to be about...one of those constant steps we need to be taking to start getting rid and clearing out this disease we know as racism," Underdown said.
"The goal here is to be able to have relationships cross culturally, across race (and) across these boundaries that typically throughout history have defined us," he said.
"Coming here, being here early in the morning, that is the first step," Underdown said.
Students were shown a video of random people from around Detroit answering questions centered around racism and racial discrimination.
According to the presentation, people felt that racism was not an issue.
However, when asked if they felt they had ever witnessed racial discrimination, most of the individuals interviewed said yes.
"Is it ok for race to be a determining factor in anything anymore?" Underdown asked.
"I think our political correctness as a society would say of course not, but when you look at the heart of the matter and the actions of our culture, we would probably have to say it still is a big determining factor, not only in major society decisions, but also in our personal relationships and how we interact with each other," Underwood continued.
When Underdown finished speaking, Brooks took the microphone and asked students to shout out examples of culture.
One student shouted out traditions, while another spoke up and said hobbies. A third student mentioned food.
According to Brooks, culture is something that isn't necessarily seen by the naked eye, but it is the food someone likes to eat, the music they listen to and the traditions they keep.
According to Brooks, students should not only celebrate things they have in common, but also celebrate things that are unique to each individual person.
"If you cut all of us, we bleed red. It's pretty common across the board," Brooks said.
"The beauty about culture is that in one aspect, we are all the same, but at the same time we are all different," Brooks told students. "We are all the same in the sense that we are human beings. We all have a need to be loved, a need for relationships, for friendships, for guidance."
He added those are the needs that bring us together and "complete each other."
"It's like looking at the pieces of a puzzle," Brooks explained. "All the pieces are different and unique, but when they come together, it makes a beautiful that you wouldn't have if you were buy yourself."
He added when people begin to celebrate each other, it makes both individuals feel better about themselves.
According to Underdown, Detroit Reverse is a week-long experience where youth from both the city of Detroit and surrounding suburbs come and live together.
Paul said she learned a lot about herself, and other cultures, during the week she spent with Detroit Reserve this past summer.
"Just being so immersed in their culture. You are living down there, you are working down there, you are serving down there. It's an awesome opportunity," she said.
Keenist agreed. "It was really an awesome opportunity to live with people from the city and to get to know them and do something for the same cause," Keenist said.
Now they are hoping to spread the word at OHS and have other students join them in their crusade to fight racism.
"We want to bring it more to Oxford, especially since we are school of choice and there are a lot more cultures than from Oxford," Keenist said.
"We want to make sure there is a sense of community in our school since we all are from Oxford," Paul added. "We all are Oxford Wildcats and we really want to make sure everyone feels safe and welcome and part of one big family."
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.