Students grow close over the year

By Brandon West

Our April retreat weekend (April 25-27, 2008) was the best meeting so far. It was unbelievable. I am so impressed with the connection between us — Class 4 of Cultural Leadership — as change agents. We are 28 high school students from 17 different high schools and like Gandhi said, we are the change we wish to see.

We have grown close and no longer see each other as Jewish or African-American, but as people, as sisters and brothers. We strive to be the change agents who will motivate others to end discrimination, anti-Semitism, and racism.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

The theme of our retreat was motivation, strategy, and impact. On Friday, we played a simulation game called Star Power. We all randomly chose a cup filled with colored game chips — our “lot in life”. The objective of the game was to get the most points by exchanging chips. The high points sat on one side of the room, lower points sat on the other side of the room, and middle range sat in the middle. We soon realized by the way the facilitators treated us that we were in social classes. I was a member of the lower class and it’s still amazing to me how quickly we took on the characteristics of the lower class, that is, anger, then resignation. One of the lessons I learned is that people forget where they come from in order to be successful.

This was a great way to start the retreat and prepare us for our first guest speaker, Dick Weiss, a former writer for the Post-Dispatch. He taught us how to journal (which helped us enormously for our next activity), seeing a movie called the Children’s March about protests by students our age in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama as part of the Civil Rights Movement. I didn’t know that children played a big part in the marches. One of the most inspiring moments in the video was when all the children were willing to go to jail for equal rights. It made us wonder — would we have the same courage?

My classmate, Meredith Stoner, has written on this page about our wonderful programming on Saturday filled with activities and incredible change agents. On Sunday our final guest was 84-year-old Sister Mary Antona Ebo, an African-American nun, who participated in the Selma March. She explained how the hospital she worked at was full of people beaten in the march. The time spent with Sister Ebo was unforgettable. I learned that my generation and I are standing on the shoulders of those who fought for civil rights.

One of the monthly requirements of Cultural Leadership is to do something outside of our comfort zone. We ended the weekend declaring what we will do before we meet again. I have pledged to welcome a new teacher whom no one is speaking to and to spend time with people at school whom I don’t normally talk to.

I have an increasingly hard time ending our programs because my classmates have become my best friends. And I love the facilitators, Phil and Cindy, and Karen. They are down to earth but at the same time they keep us on task. Whether we are at school, on the phone, or on the Internet, we support each other and help fight discrimination.

When I became part of Cultural Leadership, I didn’t expect to grow so attached to all my classmates. I’ve never felt such a strong connection to others my age. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to be with. They are great to hang out with and I am so lucky to spend a whole year with them.

Brandon West is a sophomore at Pattonville High School.