On a recent Saturday morning, 200 high-school and college students attended Kennett High School’s 13th annual Multicultural and Diversity Awareness Conference at Kennett High School.
Ray Fernandez, assistant principal and conference organizer, said, “Educating students about social issues, ethnicity, race relations, and cultural differences and similarities is as important as teaching academic subjects.”
Students and chaperones came from high schools in Allentown, Coatesville, Norristown, Philadelphia, Upper Darby, Phoenixville, Conestoga, and Great Valley.
Educator and award-winning filmmaker Nuala Cabral presented the keynote address. She began by saying that she was going to tell them the things that she wished someone had told her when she was 17. She explained that, as the child of a white mother and an African-American father, she knew that many of the comments she heard -- such as she was very pretty for a dark-skinned girl -- were wrong, but that she couldn’t articulate why they were wrong.
She attended an expensive private Quaker school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and her best friend attended the local public high school that sat directly across the street.
“My sister and I were on scholarship, as were all of the students of color,” Cabral said. “But I didn’t realize that the education we were receiving was significantly different from that of my best friend until high school. That was my first recognition of structural racism. … The idea that just by being wealthy or attending a wealthy school, I was afforded opportunities that she wasn’t.”
Cabral’s lessons for the audience were to first take control of their education. She explained that, as a child, she was taught history that was irreverent to her life. She challenged the students to learn about and embrace their cultures.
Second, she challenged the audience to recognize that everyone is privileged in some way, and that this privilege is something with which we are born. Next, she encouraged everyone in the audience to be good allies.
She said that, although change takes time, it is possible. This last lesson coincided with a comment from Kennett Consolidated School District superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti, who told the audience during his opening remarks that everyone in the audience was going to make a difference in the world.
Kennett High School offered multiple workshops as part of the conference, with topics that challenged students to consider their purpose in life, leadership skills, and experience growing up in a multicultural society.
Reflecting on the cnference, Kennett High School senior Giselle Zurita said that she liked hearing people’s stories and learning about where they live.
First-time conference attendees Mercedes Rios and Neja Jackson, a Kennett High School junior and sophomore, respectively, said they also enjoyed meeting new people.
Tomasetti said that the greatest impact of the Multicultural and Diversity Awareness Conference was that “everyone has worth, and can grow to realize their dreams.”