ADL Youth Leadership Conference Aims to Defeat Hate in Schools

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During this “divisive political climate,” students from all over Pennsylvania and New Jersey were welcomed to the Anti-Defamation League’s 12th annual Youth Leadership Conference at the Convention Center in Philadelphia to combat hate and bullying.

With a message that those attending were chosen by their school, and a remark of how “each and every day you have the ability to make an impact,” morning workshops began.

The day was split into four events: the welcome speech, the morning workshops, lunch/afternoon workshops, and the keynote speaker. Morning workshops placed one person from each school in a room full of students; all of them were separated from their schools.

My workshop leader was Walter. He steered our discussion towards identifying stereotypes and prejudice towards ourselves and identifying prejudice that we ourselves may perpetrate. Discussion also revealed problems in each of our individual schools. This opportunity to meet with so many people from so many different schools was honestly invaluable; although we all grew up in vastly different situations, all of our schools have basically the same problems.

Not enough diversity, too many people perpetrating or ignoring discrimination, and not enough normalization of minorities and ethnic cultures are the most prevalent problems.

This led into the afternoon workshop, where everyone regrouped with their school to discuss solutions to these problems. This specifically was well organized; allowing each school to meet and personalize solutions for our school specifically was valuable. The afternoon workshop concluded after the other school(s) in the room as well as our own presented the solutions we came up with.

Junior Alan Davis came up with an interesting idea: “Feel Good Fridays”. Every Friday he wants to do something to raise the morale of the school; whether it be playing music on the intercom between classes, or “High-Five Fridays” where everyone high-fives each other if they’re wearing a specific shirt. He also proposed taking five minutes out of a subject each Friday to talk about an issue; such as five minutes out of English class one week, and Social Studies the next week.

Following the afternoon workshop was the keynote speaker, Charles Middleburgh.

Middleburgh is a Holocaust survivor who lived in France during Nazi occupation of France. He was nine years old on September 1, 1939, the day France declared war on Germany.

With his story, Middleburgh aimed to deliver these three messages to the students and teachers attending:

  1. Never state that the Holocaust never occurred
  2. Never fall into hatred; instead, stand up to it
  3. Show gratitude to those who saved him and his brother

He explained how Jewish rights were taken away slowly, until the day they began raiding and taking all Jewish men, women, and children to “unknown place” — concentration camps.

After a long ordeal of fear and panic and hardships, Middleburgh and his brother ended up reunited with his father. This was by chance; his father’s cousin happened to run into him while he was in hiding. When his father’s cousin got sent to Auschwitz and ran into his father, his father knew where to look for him.

Middleburgh ended his story with the note: “Life is full of small miracles.”

The entire day as a whole was invaluable. Hearing Mr. Middleburgh’s story was heart wrenching, but extremely important. In this time of political divide, we all need to remember how similar we really are; celebrate unity, not differences.

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