Ten students given five minutes to tell tales of hate

The Southerner

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By Diana Powers

The theater full of students was hushed, dark and expectant as junior Jalen Gregory broke the silence with a formative story from his childhood. He was accused of shoplifting, solely because of his race. Gregory was the first of 10 students to recite a story relating an experience of discrimination. The performances were sponsored by The Moth, a National Public Radio program, as part of a project with USA Network.

For over a year, the USA Network’s Characters Unite initiative has been working with The Moth and holding workshops in six high schools across the nation in order to spark dialogue about discrimination and intolerance.

The program was first presented to principal Vincent Murray, who then handed the project over to history teacher Roderick Pope. Pope said he was enthusiastic about coordinating the project with journalism teacher Deedee Abbott.

Each participant submitted a story about a time they dealt with discrimination and how that experience altered him or her. Pope and Abbott announced the opportunity to their classes and after-school clubs.

The program coordinators selected juniors Lauren Alford, Josiah Garrett, Deborah Harris, Olivia Kleinman and Gregory and seniors Mallory Akard, Vivien Feria, Quameeha Grandoit and Caitlin Wade to participate.

The program coordinators helped the students craft their stories, shorten them to five minutes and learn how to speak in front of an audience.

“The whole week of writing our stories was an introspective experience,” Harris said. “I gained a lot of insight about myself.”

Garrett’s story centered on the difficulties he encountered moving from Virginia to Atlanta in the middle of his sophomore year.

“The audience was a lot more accepting than I thought it would be,” Garrett said. “I realized that there were people that seemed to connect with me during the story and even more who reached out to me afterwards. I realized that everyone has a story to tell and that a surprisingly large number of people want to hear it.”

Abbott and Pope said they were extremely proud of the students who shared their stories and said it took an immense amount of courage to share such vulnerable moments with such a large audience. Pope said that by telling their stories, they are spreading their strength to others who have suffered and that the impact on the student body was more powerful than he ever expected.

“The students I talked with afterwards who performed told me the whole experience meant a lot to them,” Abbott said. “This unique opportunity gave them the strength they lacked previously so they would never feel torn down again.”

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