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Conference Helps Kids Face Racism

Tue., May 21, 1996

Ferris High School senior Brandon Molett said the racism he’s faced growing up black in Spokane is more subtle than the direct attacks frequently associated with hate.

Clerks sometimes ignore him in stores. Restaurant service is slow.

Natasha Celestin, a Shadle Park High School sophomore, said she’s gotten racist taunts from neighbors who don’t like her because of her skin color. She’s one of about two dozen blacks in her school.

“I get stares,” Celestin said about what it’s like to grow up black in a city that’s 93 percent white.

Molett and Celestin were among 300 high school and middle school students attending the two-day Students of Color Conference at Spokane Falls Community College.

The conference started Monday with the showing of a documentary, “The Color Fear,” and group discussions led by the film’s producer, Lee Mun Wah, of Oakland, Calif.

The film, a study of racism, features an intense discussion among a group of men representing America’s major racial groups.

It’s the first time such a conference has been held for Spokane students.

“People should realize racism is everywhere still,” Molett said after seeing the documentary. “People that don’t believe it are closed off to it.”

Nearly all the students invited to the conference were minorities.

That prompted one black high school counselor to remark, “The wrong people are here.”

Spokane School District Superintendent Gary Livingston said the schools hope to expand the conference on color to include white students in the future.

“We are trying to bring to the table the conversation of equality and diversity,” Livingston said.

Arielle Anderson, a junior at North Central High School, said she saw the fliers announcing the conference and talked her counselor into letting her go, even though she is white. She believes the discussion is too important to be limited to minority students.

“This should be for everyone,” she said.

Anderson said she was taught America is a melting pot for all races. “I think we’ve proven more or less it doesn’t work out,” she said.

Helen Givens, a Ferris counselor, said the conference is a start for expanding discussion of racism in public schools.

Students of color need to understand the issue clearly so they are better prepared to deal with the racism they may encounter in their lives, she said. “They need to know how to respond in a healthy manner,” Givens said.

Middle school students attending today will focus on career opportunities. Nearly a dozen businesses are participating in the conference.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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