Educating students to promote change and advocacy in their school and greater communities as well as examine their own responsibilities in creating a just society.
Encountering Differences Program
Tammy Kaye, Coordinator
In response to mounting racial tensions, the Jewish Federation has launched a new student program, Encountering Differences. Modeled on our longstanding Encountering Survivors Program, the program connects students with African Americans in southeastern Connecticut to experience living history.
Through a series of small group meetings, the students learn the personal histories of these African American families, their experiences with segregation, the migration north, the desegregation and Civil Rights movements and their present lives in southeastern Connecticut.
Like Encountering Survivors, the small group meetings create opportunities for students to increase knowledge, enable understanding and develop personal connections. The program strives to help students draw lessons from current and past events, break down racial barriers, and confront hatred and prejudice.
Other programming during the 2017-18 school year featured Dr. John McKnight, Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion at Connecticut College, who presented A History of Anti-Black Racism in the US. His presentation gave the students key historical background surrounding slavery, the Civil War, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Drugs, and Black Lives Matter. He also facilitated interactive discussions examining current events in relation to steps forward or back in racial equality.
Culminating Projects and Program 2017-18
Students created projects highlighting the most impactful insights from their program experience. Students presented their projects at a culminating program at East Lyme High School attended by all program participants.
In developing their presentations, students were encouraged to think about how they can promote change and advocacy in their school and greater communities as well as examine their own responsibilities in creating a just society. Many impactful life lessons were highlighted in the student projects: the importance of educating yourself and forming your own opinions, making a difference through community involvement and social action, and the importance of resilience when approaching life’s challenges.
The Day featured the Encountering Differences pilot program in a front-page story following the culminating program. The article gave extensive detail on program goals and student experiences.
The students, teachers, and some program volunteers took a day trip to Harlem where they were immersed in historical and cultural experiences. The day began with a guided tour of the Apollo Theater where the students experienced the variety of musical genres brought to the theater. They got a backstage view of the spaces walked by many music legends who left their signatures on the Apollo’s walls.
An authentic soul food buffet afforded the students an opportunity to experience some new foods. Following lunch, the group toured historic Harlem visiting many sites significant to the Civil Rights movement, including The Canaan Baptist Church of Christ where pastor Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, former chief strategist to Martin Luther King Jr., brought Dr. King and Nelson Mandela to the church’s pulpit. The group also visited the site of the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated.
Schools participating in the 2017-18 school year pilot program were East Lyme High School, Norwich Free Academy – Sachem Campus, and Plainfield High School. Program volunteers working with students included Donetta Hodge, Lonnie Braxton, and Rev. Florence Clarke. Encountering Differences is receiving significant support from the Palmer Fund, the Bodenwein Fund, and the Chelsea Groton Foundation and will run over the 2018-19 school year with additional schools.