This past week I had the pleasure of attending the first annual Dane County Regional Minority Student Achievement Network Scholars Conference at Verona Area High School. Verona School Superintendent Dean Gorrell extended the invitation on behalf of the students and the members of faculty that planned the event.
Their mission was to get the word out to members of the local media about the conference, and more importantly, to showcase the efforts of students who are working to make a difference in their schools and communities.
The keynote speaker was Calvin Terrell from the Social Centric Institute. For 20 years, Terrell has been speaking with students across the country about how to empower themselves to create safe spaces in their high schools and communities, and to be leaders, even if you have to lead alone.
To say that Terrell was dynamic would be an understatement. He was successful in taking the students in attendance out of their comfort zones, putting them with different people and in situations many had never experienced before.
Terrell spoke about some of the obstacles that our young people face today: bullying, peer pressure, gangs, the achievement gap and the importance of education. Most importantly, he talked about how to live with, learn from and to respect one another, especially those who are different from you.
Students in attendance responded to Terrell's message by enthusiastically participating in exercises and staying engaged over the two day conference. It's amazing what happens when you watch someone that genuinely cares and who really connects with folks, especially young people.
I cannot put into words how moved I was to see students around Dane County – from all four high schools in Madison to Verona, Stoughton, McFarland and Waterloo to name a few - at the conference. There were plenty of students from all ethnicities and backgrounds in attendance. They were talking and laughing and getting along with one another. There was no conflict, no arguments or fights.
In the last segment of the program, where students (and adults) had the opportunity to stand up and apologize to someone that they have wronged in the past, they cried together too. It was an experience that I was happy to be a part of and will not soon forget.
To the local mainstream media: Where were you?
How is it that after all of the television news pieces, print articles and columns about the achievement gap, dropout rates among students of color and white flight, all too often our local media fails to cover the positive? There was an announcement about the event on WISC-TV and another. But why do local news sources like The Madison Times, Umoja, Club TNT and La Movida seem to be the only ones covering positive events consistently, especially involving people of color?
Is it just the sometimes-heated discussions over the achievement gap that you choose to cover? Or is it when shots are fired on Allied Drive or when another hip-hop club gets shut down that you only seem to have time for stories about Madison's communities of color?
This is a longstanding problem in this community that needs to change. Don't just take my word for it – ask the organizers of the event who approached me and asked where you were, going so far as calling out reporters and columnists by name. Ask some of the students I spoke with that asked why television cameras only seem to be around when something bad happens involving their peers, but never when young people are doing well?
Like it or not, that is the perception of many in this community when it comes to our local media, including our young people. What will you do to change it?
Thank you again, Superintendent Gorrell, for inviting me. I know that you are hosting the next conference in August.
Let's hope that the local media pays attention this time.