Passionate voices again echoed throughout the Great Hall of The Cooper Union as over 500 high school students and teachers gathered to confront bias and racism at Thirteen's Teen Leadership Institute. Now in its 12th year, the institute taps the leadership potential of high school juniors from more than 100 schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Students leave the event charged with inspiration. Charisse Long, a senior at Baruch College Campus High School, who served as a panelist and facilitator at this year's event, told of her experience since first attending the Teen Leadership Institute. "After the Institute in 2000, we organized our own Heritage Day at our school, a celebration of the various cultures in our school, our community and around the world. It was an awesome night with international performances, ethnic foods, exhibits, and readings. Now, we are going to pass it down in our school as a legacy and it's thanks to a Teen Leadership grant we received from Thirteen."
The day commenced with a Socratic Ethics Forum, moderated by Charles Ogletree, a Harvard School of Law professor. The forum involved substantial audience participation, featuring guest panelists New York Giants' running back Tiki Barber; Erica Terry, a reporter on MTV's Choose or Loose; Holocaust survivor Clara Wachter Feldman; Hector Gesualdo, Executive Director, ASPIRA of New York, Inc.; Benjamin Sun, president and chief executive officer of Community Connect, Inc.; and five teenage members of the Teen Leadership advisory board and Global Kids, Inc., an organization dedicated to preparing urban youth to become global citizens and community leaders.
"Bias and racism are among the most daunting issues facing our society today," said Dr. William F. Baker, president of Thirteen. "This year's Teen Leadership Institute offers young people in our community an opportunity to analyze and explore these issues through discussion and activities designed to break down barriers. We hope that this day will become one of many days throughout their lives that these young leaders devote to understanding diversity."
Following the panel discussion, the teens broke into focus groups led by volunteers from the staff of Izod, who have been trained to facilitate workshops on bias, with teenage members of the Teen Leadership advisory board and Global Kids, Inc. The students explored the role that diversity and race play in their lives through role-playing and self-identity exercises. Meanwhile, educators participated in one of three workshops led by the Simon Wiesenthal Center with the Facing History and Ourselves organization, the United Nations Association of the United States of America, or the Thirteen's Educational Resources Center.
"At IZOD and Phillips-Van Heusen, we share the goals of channel Thirteen -- diversity and tolerance," said Ken Duane, vice chairman, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., Sportswear Group, which includes the brand IZOD. "Our partnership in presenting the Teen Leadership Institute offers our staff a hands-on opportunity to develop the leadership potential of our community's most precious asset, our youth."
"Targus is proud to support Thirteen's Teen Leadership Institute in its important mission of developing our country's future political, civic, academic, and business leaders," stated Howard Johnson, chief executive officer of Targus Group International, Inc. "Targus' success is built upon a solid foundation of professional integrity, perseverance, respect for our employee community and confidence in our company and products. We are committed to sustaining programs that nurture these and other vital leadership qualities in our nation's youth." Students attending the TEEN LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE will have a chance at winning one of five RakGear backpacks donated by Targus.
Macenje Mazoka, Thirteen's director of youth outreach, announced a $5,000 essay contest "What America Means to Me," open to Teen Leadership Institute participants, through a donation from the Korean-American Youth Foundation. Also, five $1,000 Achievement Awards are available to schools whose teachers and students participated in this year's Teen Leadership Institute so that they can implement or expand leadership programs in their schools and communities.
Mazoka also lauded the winners of last year's awards: Ansonia High School (Connecticut) to organize a Human Relations Club newspaper; Baruch College Campus High School (Manhattan) to support their Heritage Day celebration; Poly Prep Country Day School (Brooklyn) to sponsor their Community and Diversity Day; Susan E. Wagner High School (Staten Island) to initiate a Conflict Resolution Program; and Vernon Township High School (New Jersey) to expand on their Unity Club.
The day concluded with a keynote address by the 1995 world champion of pubic speaking, Mark Brown. Brown makes hundreds of presentations each year at school assemblies, conferences and conventions throughout North America. His unique blend of insight and wit left the audience entertained, uplifted and inspired to carry the themes of the Institute into their schools and communities.