More than 30 students and teachers from across the Monmouth County Vocational School District (MCVSD) gathered in the BioTechnology High School media center to discuss topics concerning diversity and inclusion. This was the first event of its kind in MCVSD history to bring both part-time and full-time academies together for such purposes.
The event featured guest speaker Chris Singleton, a former minor league baseball player who shared a message of understanding, learning and resilience. The inspiration behind his story was the murder of his mother, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, who was among nine African American parishioners slain by a white supremacist at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C.
Singleton encouraged those at the event to become ambassadors of tolerance by way of their own experiences, motivating them to help build empathy and compassion in others regardless of their initial biases.
“I think it went really well, I think it was organized well and I really appreciated all the different students from across the district coming together for this event,” said Claire Ng, a marine science teacher at the Marine Academy of Science and Technology and one of the organizers of the event. “I think it was really exciting to see the academy students and the shared-time students coming and dialoguing and having a chance to talk to each other…our district is so big that we often don’t get those opportunities to meet with one another.”
The organizers of the event hoped to open a discussion between their students, allowing them to share their own stories about race and diversity while learning more about their peers in the MCVSD and their experiences as well.
“I hope this is the start of a really great way for us to have these conversations and start having these discussions around social justice and equity and inclusivity,” Ng said. “I think this is a great start and I hope that we continue to do this all year and into the future.”
The students present at the event were selected by their teachers both for their leadership skills and for their experiences and stances related to race and racism. Many of the students had encountered prejudice themselves, using those experiences to push them to fight against intolerance.
“I was faced with racism and racial discrimination as early as third grade and I always felt that I was in a diverse school community until I reached high school,” said Allied senior Krishi Patel. “I think it’s really important for us to continue conversations like this and continue to make things like this so that nobody has to face the feeling of not belonging somewhere or not being welcome somewhere.”
The hope of this event and potential events in the future is to spread the message of tolerance and intersectionality throughout the MCVSD, starting with the students and teachers in attendance.
“I hope that what we’ll be able to do is empower the students to amplify their voices,” Ng said. “[To be] able to take those back to their individual schools and to spread the message to their friends, to their colleagues, to their schools that this is a goal that the district wants us to pursue and that it is going to be supported.”
(Video and additional details and photo will be posted soon.)