The Benefits of Choosing to Participate

Nov 18, 2009 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"Choosing to Participate" is a nationally acclaimed interactive multimedia exhibit that examines the choices we make every day to build strong and inclusive communities. It further examines the history and impact of racism, injustice and the courage of citizens to make change.

The exhibit will make its way to Cleveland, Ohio, next month before heading to Washington, D.C. Created by Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational nonprofit, the "Choosing to Participate" exhibit is part of a national initiative aimed at stimulating young people and adults to think deeply about the importance of participating in a democratic society, and the consequences of action and inaction.

At the press conference yesterday announcing the exhibit, I met two high school students who were each part of Facing History and Ourselves initiatives in their schools. These teens have accepted the invitation to think critically about issues of race and prejudice and to understand that their decisions and actions matter to themselves, their communities and future generations.

One young, African-American male was part of his high school's student leadership group that addressed bullying and educated peers on anti-bullying tactics. They educated themselves about the roles of bully, victim, bystander, and upstander--someone who takes a positive stand on behalf of others. Armed with personal bullying stories and anti-bullying techniques, they came up with a project to visit elementary school students and teach them about the long-term effects of bullying.

The other young, white female was part of her high school's Race and Diversity (R.A.D) student club. The goal of R.A.D. is to get people to talk honestly and openly about race. After a number of school activities, students took cameras and engaged the community in race discussions. They learned that they can play an active role in shaping perceptions and ultimately can inspire change.

Sometimes what I hear and read about today's youth makes me shudder. I shudder because I think about them as our future leaders who will be running the country, managing my retirement account, making decisions about international affairs when I am, hopefully, in some nice, assisted-living complex. Thinking about these teens, who represent so many others from their schools, I relax.