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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 26 2013

YWCA, Cheney students Stand Against Racism

WEST FARGO – Jasmin Diehl has seen people bullied on Cheney Middle School buses, and often enough, for many of those counted as new to America, it’s simply because of the color of their skin.

After hearing the lessons of Friday’s “Stand Against Racism” event at Cheney, she said she picked up some important messages.

“You shouldn’t judge a person by the color of their skin, education group, what they wear, any of that,” the sixth-grader said. “I would like to teach most kids this.”

Cheney Middle School was one of more than 75 sites in Fargo-Moorhead for the YWCA Cass Clay’s fourth-annual “Stand Against Racism.”

YWCA spokeswoman Katie McCormick said the event, held at thousands of locations around the country, aims to bring together people of all walks of life.

“We stand together to say that racism is a real and present thing,” McCormick said. “Enough is enough!”

Rachel Clarke, the YWCA’s associate executive director said volunteers wanted to get students to think about racism, stereotypes, bullying and discrimination.

“We really want to talk about changes that are relevant to them,” Clarke said, and get them to think “What can we do to make a difference?”

In Cora Davis’s classroom, about half the students raised their hands when asked if they had seen fellow students use words or actions that were racist. Several more said they had seen bullying.

Shrihari “Hari” Panjini, a Fargo attorney, also shared a couple of his experiences with racism in the area.

“Somebody said, ‘Go back to your country.’ What was that based on? The color of my skin,” Panjini said. “Where was I born? Right here in Fargo.”

Last summer, Panjini came across a man on the ground who appeared drunk. He said he tried to help up the man, who appeared to be in his 60s. But as he did, the older man pulled him close.

“I shoot people like you. I shoot you. I shoot you,” the man told Panjini.

Such words, Panjini told the students, spring from prejudice and racism.

“There’s definitely a need for educating people,” Panjini said later.

The class then split into four groups, and YWCA volunteers talked with them about how to recognize and deal with racism and bullying.

It’s important to “stand up against bullies” was the takeaway for Elizabeth George.

“You should be kind to others, don’t bully,” Dalton Cossette said. “Just be a better person and help others.”

Sixth-grade language teacher Susan Klabunde said that in an area of growing diversity like Fargo, people need to be reminded that even though we’re different, we’re very much the same.

“I think it’s an issue we need to continue to talk about with these kids,” Klabunde said.

The students closed the event by creating a video that will be posted on YouTube, Klabunde said.

They also signed posters declaring they, too, will stand against racism.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583