At City Club 03.07.05 NOTES: Youth Forum Series - Student Group On Race Relations

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 03/08/2005 - 01:04.

The City Club of Cleveland's innovative Youth Forum Series featured a fantastic event on 03.07.08 for participants in the Student Group on Race Relations (SGORR), where probably around 200 high school students and educators and youth care professionals participated in discussions on issues of social consciousness.Â

It was fascinating how powerful this event was in concept and purpose. The format had dozens of tables set for small groups of students and caring professionals to discuss issues drawn from a listing of current news events: "American Idol gives the guys a break", "Race-based affirmative action admissions", "Wealthgap seen as top civil rights issue", "Tolerance talk flares after cartoon flap", and "Equal pay for women? Not till 2050".

The excellent facilitator for our group, a student from Shaker High School, chose our first topic as "Race-based affirmative action admissions" and we read a brief news story on the issue and discussed. The premise of the article was "affirmative action actually hurts blacks in terms of their career paths and not just in terms of their psyches". Here are some thoughts in reflection from my group:

  • Affirmative action addresses need for arm twisting to balance playing fields
  • Need equitable access to insure there are diverse professionals to meet needs of diverse population and workplaces - e.g. African American lawyers for African American clients
  • Believe society at large doesn't see affirmative action as letting in less qualified
  • Student in group says as his peers are applying for college admissions some claim African American peers are getting into better schools based on race - don't think that is fair
  • City Club group facilitator says she pursues diverse groups in student teams and that increases acceptance and creates cross cultural awareness and better relations
  • Divide is more about socio-economic disparity
  • African American adult attendee says "I am tired of affirmative action and wish it was gone today"
  • Another attendee says as long as there is a need to help people through previously closed doors of opportunity then affirmative action is needed
  • In general people in this group don't see need going away any time soon/ever
  • I bring up the recent Harvard President comment about women being inferior to men in the sciences, and the effort of the Greater Cleveland Roundtable to encourage more diversity on corporate boards of directors as examples of how broad is the issue - and point out companies that develop diverse leadership experience better business results
  • Attendee asks is anyone at table has experienced any loss because of affirmative action?
    • student points to perception of other students that affirmative action gives some students unfair advantages in college admissions
  • Another attendee is concerned about bad perceptions associated with affirmative action
  • We're fooling ourselves if we don't get serious about educating all people about diversity in global world - our problems here are minor compared to developing nations vs. developed world, for example
  • African American adult attendee says he was recruited from Cleveland to a Southern African American college that wanted more diversity by region and type of community
  • There are many types of discrimination, diversity, and affirmative action - large topic with many perspectives at our table, in microcosm

The second topic we discussed was "Tolerance talk flares after cartoon flap" - we read an article on the noise in the press about "gay" representation in a cartoon, and discussed.

  • Sexual identity minorities have highest suicide risk - social death is more frightening than real death to youth
  • Youth develop love relations and should - and they happen a many levels - society needs tolerance and that may be a life and death need
  • Shaker School attendee says his school has great respect for diversity - there is a large gay/straight alliance - but some students are not tolerant

We break for brief presentation to the group about the Youth Forum. It is lead by a group of 25-30 high school students from around the region who work together at the City Club - a few hours per week - planning topics for forums and planning logistics. Several participants in this program speak up saying they consider this a very valuable experience and recommend other students get involved. Students should contact the City Club for more information!

The group now breaks for lunch and continues the discussions, still in small groups. We're each given four cards with "strongly disagree", "disagree", "agree" and "strongly agree" printed on them - as new topics are raised, we each show which care reflects our opinion and we discuss views and differences. Some topics surfaced are:

  • Higher education entitle graduates to a job
  • In times of war, we should accept giving up some civil rights
  • If a system or government is corrupt, it is better to work inside the corrupt system to make good aspects as good as possible, vs. working outside the corrupt system to overthrow it
  • Abortion is a moral issue, like fraud, robbery, etc.
  • Religion should play a role in governing US?

Ultimately, for every topic and discussion there were diverse beliefs expressed. It seemed about 75% of people felt one way - diverse opinions were expressed and discussed. In the end, we each gained great insith from the exchange. I would never have met most of the people in the room and never have otherwise hears so many viewpoints and personal perspectives on these issues. This is an effort that should be repeated every day, in every public forum in the area, and in our virtual community. The broader is each our voices and our communities where we explore serious issues the greater our foundation of diversity and ability to understand the needs and perspective of others - collaboration leads to greater tolerance and understanding.

Congratulations to the City Club, SGORR, Bellefaire JCB, and sponsor Alcoa Foundation for hosting this great forum.