NEW BRUNSWICK – When the group of nearly 100 Lead for Diversity staff, volunteers, and New Jersey high-school student delegates returned home after a weeklong diversity and human-relations educational retreat in late July, the American Conference on Diversity (ACOD) social-media platforms lit up with inspirational comments from tomorrow’s change agents and leaders.
“Lead for Diversity was just absolutely mesmerizing. It opened up my mind to a lot of prejudice and taught me a lot. I really had the time of my life. It was sad at times, serious, funny, and changed my life for the better,” said Johnny DeLair of Piscataway High School.
“It makes me feel like a lottery winner, in a sense, that I was selected to come to this camp. I will never forget what happened here and will truly do my best to translate what I’ve learned to everyone around me,” said Laney Roberson of Spotswood High School.
The 19th annual Lead for Diversity youth leadership education kickoff, a residential program held at the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pa., was a huge success, according to event organizers. College students and professional volunteers mentored 78 high-school students from 24 schools and youth organizations statewide to “be the change,” gain greater awareness of diversity and social justice, and develop skills and action plans to make their schools and communities more inclusive.
“Our goal is to help people become more accountable for their actions and behaviors—starting with you,” says ACOD President and CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley to a circle of delegates during visitor’s day.
This residential program is the start of a yearlong strategic initiative for student delegates entering their sophomore, junior, and senior years. Designed to build social-awareness, leadership, conflict-resolution, and cross-cultural communication skills, the experiential learning activities in which students participate, help them recognize and advocate for more inclusion within their communities. This year, delegates participated in more than 10 workshops, seven discussion groups, and numerous hands-on activities on topics from socioeconomic differences to sexual orientation to gain leadership perspective along the spectrum of diversity and inclusion. Additionally, delegates collaborate with peers, school advisors, and ACOD staff to create action plans that will be implemented during the 2013-2014 school year. The goal: to address challenges unique to their communities. Their action plans, to be delivered by participating Lead for Diversity schools and organizations throughout New Jersey beginning this fall, vary by scope and design. A few examples:
- Secaucus High School delegates plan to create a club aimed at helping students and educators become more responsive to inappropriate, biased language used in school.
- Bergen County Academies will hold multiple workshops for administrators, faculty, and staff to help them better understand social issues that impact the student body.
- Franklin High School, Freehold Township High School, and University Academy hope to reach educators, parents, and students with a series of presentations aimed at addressing stereotyping and reducing prejudice.
- Lakewood High School, Spotswood High School, and St. Benedict’s Prep will address gender inequality and oppression, utilizing a series of workshops and discussions.
- Marist High School delegation will conduct student workshops to address stereotypes related to economic class.
Participating institutions for the Lead for Diversity 2013-2014 school year are: Absegami High School; Bayonne High School; Bergen County Academies; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson & Union Counties; Cedar Creek High School; Franklin High School; Freehold Township High School; Gill St. Bernard’s School; Haddonfield Memorial High School; Howell High School; Kearny High School; Lakewood High School; Marist High School; Marlboro High School; Piscataway High School; Princeton Day School; St. Benedict’s Preparatory School; Saint Vincent Academy; Secaucus High School; Spotswood High School; and University Academy Charter High School.
Lead for Diversity Partners in Education include: Fidelity Investments, Investors Foundation, New Jersey Natural Gas, NJM Insurance Group, The Provident Bank Foundation, Shor Family Foundation Inc, Victoria Foundation, and Wilf Family Foundation.
Formerly known as Anytown, NJ, LFD has been a cornerstone of the American Conference on Diversity Youth Leadership Institute since 1995. Since that time, over 100 of New Jersey’s high schools have participated and several thousand students have been delegates. In a recent survey of past program participants, nearly 80 percent of former delegates said that attending the program impacted their career choice, leading them to education, social work, nonprofit work, healthcare, government, and law.
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