Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper
“It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.”—Aesop
The aromas were a distraction, yes. Injera from Ethiopia, sfeehas from Lebanon, and churros from Mexico. The foods representing the cultural backgrounds of South View’s students lined three, 8-foot tables in the Media Center one crisp afternoon in early December.
But the olfactory sensations quickly receded into the background once the seventh, eighth and ninth graders in Dare 2 Be Real began to speak.
One by one around the circle they stood up, read a personal poem about their culture, sat down again. The students were African-American, Ethiopian, Hispanic, Somalian, Norwegian, or a hodge-podge of ethnicities too intertwined to sort out and claim any singular identity.
Some students emitted a nervous giggle during the reading, others fought back stinging tears, and there were, of course, the shifters - body weight first on the left leg, then the right, left, right…
But the circumstances around some of the poems were enough to make anyone squirm just a bit. Some have had racial slurs written on their lockers, been taunted in the halls, with anonymous phone calls, or in their neighborhood. Other students in D2BR haven’t been personally teased, but are there as support and to help make a difference in the school, and ultimately society.
Heritage aside, the kids in Dare 2 Be Real have one thing in common: A strong desire to enact change in a society that still struggles with true acceptance of all people.
“I am from long nights under the stars,” one girl from Tibet began.
“I am from loud family gatherings and laughter, and here, eat some more!” another girl said.
The boy next to her set another tone in the room by saying:
I sometimes am teased and made fun of at school,
Why must I be Christian just to be cool?
But still I am proud to be Jewish.
I am thought of as being totally different,
I can’t get away from these stereotypes.
One 8th grader threw a kink in the rope: “I am from no family dinners or traditions, I am from – I don’t know where I’m from – I am from chaos and confusion…”
And a handful of students proudly claimed European ancestry from the likes of Norway (lefse), Germany (bratwurst and sauerkraut), and Ireland (baked potatoes).
After each poem, the people in the circle affirmed the reader with a unified "ashe," a West African term that is comparable to "amen," or "so be it."
Dare 2 Be Real was initiated and developed at South View by Dr. Patrick Duffy and is in its third year at the middle school. The program is now the model for similar programs, slowly spreading throughout country.
Students apply to the program each spring for acceptance into the following school year. The students meet during homeroom each day and are led by Mrs. Kalinowski and Ms. Skaff. Dr. Duffy joins in from time to time to imbue the students with his passion for ethics and diversity.
D2BR’s mission statement reads something like this: “Dare 2 Be Real is a student community of anti-racist leaders interested in developing and understanding our individual and collective cultural and racial identity and committed to the acceptance and fair treatment of all individuals.”
If Aesop were alive today he’d be proud. These kids are standing up for themselves and others not by messenger, anonymously, or via social media. They’re speaking out face to face in the hallways at school and in our communities. They’re talking bravely about their feelings and experiences, regardless of how their candor will be met.
If Aesop were alive today, he could write about the courage of the youth of the D2BR programs across the country, so that all the world could follow suit.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
Julia Jergensen Edelman