8th graders from Toledo, Perrysburg battle racism

There’s more than just a river separating downtown Toledo from Perrysburg, but a dozen students from both sides of the water are working together to change that.
Six eighth grade students each from St. Rose and Queen of Apostles schools became the first junior high students to complete the Dialogue to Change program.
The program, founded by the Rev. Karen Shepler in 2013, works to bring awareness to racism through small groups of diverse individuals. Previously, the program had focused on adults, but the middle school students who finished are eager to spread the program by introducing it to other Catholic schools.
“We’ve had a lot of racism toward our family, and it kind of hurts, so I wanted to make a change,” Alexis Gonzales, an eighth grade student at Queen of Apostles, said.
Teachers from both schools felt this age was a good time to begin addressing racism in the world.
“They’re old enough and aware enough of the problems that exist in the world,” St. Rose eighth grade teacher Anne Brahier said, “but still impressionable enough that we can help to form those impressions in a Christlike manner.”
The students involved volunteered to meet for an hour a week for four weeks, which included discussions about structural and institutional racism and activities to illustrate the different privileges tied to race and social class.
These discussions take the students’ conception of racism past their personal interactions, Ms. Shepler said, and into systems that need to be addressed.
“You can make a difference,” Ms. Kepler said to the students. “True racism will be around probably for a long time, but each one of us can do things that make a difference.”
Students took that message to heart, which is what the adults in the room wanted to see.
“It helps you notice things, and realize how big of a problem it is,” said Queen of Apostles student Devin Charles, 14. “It puts a fire in your heart that makes you want to change it.”
“It’s hard to change racism on an institutional level, a larger level, without individuals changing their hearts and their minds first,” Mrs. Brahier said, “especially as these young people start to enter high school. They can have the ripple effect.”
Gregory Guzman, the director of Central City Ministry of Toledo, which oversees Queen of Apostles, said the group will be meeting in the coming weeks at Mercy College of Toledo to be trained as facilitators to lead dialogue groups themselves.
“The next step from our Diocesean level is to share what we’re doing with all of our catholic schools and get others involved and have more groups like this one,” he said.

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