An open conversation: WTHS students speak on race, stereotypes and bullying

Through an assembly of skits, speeches, dance and more, students spread awareness on prejudice and injustice within the school and nation

Lauren Crane (front, left) spoke about online bullying, as her fellow classmates represented the links that can break someone down by each negative comment.

They wanted to make a difference, they wanted their voices to be heard, and they felt now was the time to do it. On Wednesday, Feb. 7, students and staff from the Washington Township High School Students in Action, Changing Our World Project, African American Culture Club and Project Unify used the power of expression to open hearts, minds and eyes on topics of racism, stereotypes, social media and bullying during a school-wide assembly titled “Open.”

Students in ninth through 12th grade who had scheduled English classes during eighth period filled the Investors Bank Performing Arts Center where they saw original skits, poems, speeches, songs, dance and more created by the students on stage, in collaboration with the groups’ advisors.

“They want this to be a conversation,” said Eileen Lucarini, Students in Action co-founder and COW Project representative. “We want this to carry on to future discussions, and hopefully some solutions.”

The assembly included skits such as “The Stereotype is Right,” a game show where student contestants guessed someone’s personality traits and interests based solely on how they looked, as well as a conversation in “black and white,” contrasting the same conversation between a Caucasian mother and son and an African American mother and son, which portrayed differences in worries and concerns for the safety of their families.

Washington Township High School Students in Action, African American Culture Club, Changing Our World Project and Project Unify presented a unique compilation of dance, song, spoken word and skits on the timely topics of racism, sexuality, stereotypes and bullying on Wednesday, Feb. 7. On the left, Michele Folk, junior, speaks on stereotypes and the misconceptions projected on those who are different based on their appearances and cultural backgrounds. On the right, Members of Project Unify spread the message that words can hurt. Their motto, shown on the signs, is to celebrate differences, build respect and spread kindness.

“We saw our community was having problems with racial tension, bullying and hurtful words, and we couldn’t stand by and do nothing,” Brandon Spain, co-host, said. “We are united today, proud of who we are, with a message that in all ways we are all the same, but at the same time we are each unique and special in our own way.”

Many students shared poems, choreographed dance and spoke of their own experiences with prejudice and bullying.

“I feel like for the longest time it’s been easier for people to try to ignore racial prejudice and a lot of discrimination and oppression that happens, especially at school, so with this show we are communicating messages we feel people, especially the student body and faculty, need to hear,” sophomore Joley Raposas said. “It’s coming from a genuine place, from the heart.”

Junior Michele Folk shared a speech on stereotypes and the misjudgment of others based on their appearance.

“I feel oftentimes there is a big misconception with people being nice with actually being stereotypical,” Folks said. “Bottom line, stop the judgment before it starts. We’re better together than divided.”

Students took a knee in a symbolic performance of the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which told their perspective of what the act meant to them.

Some of the participating students made a bold statement on the act of taking a knee during the national anthem, a symbolic move taken by many professional athletes in the past year to protest the violence against African American citizens in the U.S. With every line of “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung by freshman Donatello Raggio, a student would take a knee and share words of what the act meant to them.

“Why stand for a country that won’t stand up for me and people who are like me?” Spain asked. “We love our country, and we love it enough not to accept that this is as good as it gets.”

With each knee, students spoke on the need for equality and how taking a knee was not an act of disrespect for the American flag, but a call for action and awareness for those African Americans who have lost their lives, such as Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student from Miami Gardens, Fla., who was fatally shot in 2012, and the injustice to many more like him.

Donatello Raggio (center) sang a rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Piece by Piece” while Jillian Watkins, Gianna Digiacomo and Kayla Chi presented a choreographed dance to the music.

“They had something to say, and what I find amazing is they want to get up and say it,” SIA Advisor Eisa Jackson said. “We’re hoping this show will start a conversation in classes and in clubs with teachers and students.”

The assembly performance urged fellow classmates and teachers to think before they speak, as well as keep an open mind and heart to others’ viewpoints. A further discussion open to all students was scheduled to take place after school on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

“You matter, we all matter, and we deserve to be treated that way,” co-host Kayla Webster, a senior, said.