The other day, Community Tampa Bay hosted and facilitated a one-day youth leadership conference in a local school, as we often do. The conference was focused on “Promoting Dialogue Between Muslim and Non-Muslim Youth” and was part of our Pathways to Understanding project. We knew going in that there were Muslim teens who asked their teachers to not be required to attend because they were afraid – they expected to, yet again, be called terrorists, to be teased and bullied and to be excluded. Things they experience everyday. It’s gotten worse lately.
As the facilitators prepared to kick off the day, the students in the room were met with chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump” by a group of their peers, making their viewpoint clearly known right at the outset.
What does it mean that a group of teens was chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump” at the start of a day that was to be focused on dialogue, bridging differences and finding common ground?
What does it mean that these teens, who had opted into participating in this conference, felt that it was appropriate to greet their peers in this way?
How did these chants make their Muslim peers, already subject to hateful rhetoric daily on a national stage, feel when they were confronted by this hate in their own school in what was to be a safe environment?
It means that Trump’s unabashed hate speech, inciting violence and vitriol for Muslims, people of color, immigrants and women has far-reaching and immediate consequences impacting our youth right now. Whether or not he’s elected president, Trump’s use of a national platform to promote stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination is doing damage to our young people – to all of us – today.
The political is always personal for people on the receiving end of prejudice.
As we’ve watched this baffling political season unfold, the team at Community Tampa Bay has often discussed what we should be doing about Trump’s outrageous bigotry. As an anti-discrimination organization we talk about what role we should be playing in interrupting and challenging his platform and momentum. We aren’t lobbyists or community organizers; political activists or national strategists. We’re youth development experts, educators and facilitators. We serve the role of bringing people with disparate backgrounds together to have hard conversations that result in building meaningful relationships across differences.
So this is exactly what we’re doing:
Everyday, we empower teens to understand and accept their own intersectional identities, to acknowledge those aspects of their social identities that give them societal privilege and to advocate for inclusion in spaces where they have or can grow in influence.
Everyday, we challenge status quo assumptions about diversity, inclusion, leadership and equity. We offer an alternative model for communication and engagement that prioritizes the voices of traditionally marginalized communities. We model what diverse and inclusive youth development strategies, work teams, community-building, volunteer communities and organizational growth can look like and accomplish.
Everyday, we offer feedback in spaces with people of influence and decision-making power, even when we know it may make us unpopular. And everyday, we ask the question “are those most impacted by [fill in the blank of whatever initiative] at the table in a decision-making capacity and if not, why not?”
Everyday, we’re engaging in the day-to-day work of dismantling stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination one relationship at a time. We’re doing what, as an organization, we have always done. Because Islamophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism and the like are not new, but they are cacophonous right now, reaching a scary fever pitch. And these “isms” are being met with resistance from protestors, organizers and others who are playing their role. We’re grateful to our brothers and sisters in social justice who do their work while we continue to do ours.
Because it will take all of us to change today’s political momentum and provide community-based responses to prejudice and discrimination. It will take all of us playing our role.
So here’s what happened at the youth conference after the teens chanted “Trump, Trump, Trump.” Our skilled facilitators redirected them and got the youth in the room engaged in the interactive activities of the conference. These activities included opportunities for the teens who had been chanting at the outset to interact meaningfully with their Muslim peers throughout the day. At the end of the day, one of the teachers shared this with our team: one of her students was extremely vocally supportive of Trump, citing his stance on Muslims as being right on. She viewed all Muslims as terrorists and strongly believed that Trump’s views on “getting rid of them” would make our country safer. The teacher encouraged her to attend this youth conference. At the end of the day, the student went to her teacher and said that she realized she had been wrong. She was attributing the actions of a few to an entire group of people and now she realized she had been stereotyping. She was encouraged to change her thinking and behavior.
This is what we do. This is why we keep doing what we’re doing. Quietly, deliberately and intentionally playing our role.
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