Schools, community promote racial accord

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2005

Race is like an undercurrent. Everyone feels it but is reluctant to talk about it.

But last January, the undercurrent surfaced when a derogatory sign against Native students brought out the long-standing concerns by Native students that they don't feel welcome at Juneau-Douglas High School.

Community meetings were held at ANB Hall. The school held "a day of listening" and other events to air concerns.

Now a group of citizens want to continue the dialogue. Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, has been meeting for the past few months to figure out ways to promote racial harmony.

Committee member Randy Wanamaker said last year's events at the high school have highlighted the fact that some people face discrimination and prejudice.

"Our entire community, particularly our youth, is affected when they experience hurtful words and negative stereotypes," said Wanamaker, a Juneau Assembly member.

The group plans to mark March 28 to April 3 as the week of diversity.

"We are hoping that different people of the community can do something special that week to appreciate our diverse cultures," said committee member Timi Tullis, who holds workshops about social justice and diversity issues through the Alaska Initiative for Community Engagement.

"We have to challenge our own upbringing. It is hard but we can grow and learn from that," she said.

Wanamaker said he hopes the event can increase understanding of the array of people who call Juneau home, break down barriers that limit people's social circles, and create a climate where individuals from all walks of life feel they are a valued part of the community.

"The vision of the committee is to change attitudes and actions so that our rich history and diversity become a source of strength and inspiration for all," Wanamaker said.

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