A City Education: Why Adults Must Model Racial Unity for Students

"Mister, why do you hang out with him?" a Latino seventh-grader student asked my teammate Ricky at lunch.

In our A City Education series, two City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.

"Mister, why do you hang out with him?" a Latino seventh-grader student asked my teammate Ricky at lunch.

Ricky knew exactly what the student was trying to get at: Why is Ricky, a Latino man, buddies with our teammate Aaron, a black man?

Ricky grew up here in Los Angeles and went to a school similar to Markham Middle School, where we serve. Markham is located in Watts, a historically black neighborhood in South Los Angeles. In the early 1990s blacks began moving out of the area, and immigrants from Mexico and Central America moved in. Cultural differences and poverty ignited frustration and led to the growth of racially segregated gangs.

Now Markham’s student population is 73 percent Latino and 27 percent black, and racial tension leads to a lot of fights and little interaction between the two groups. Given the tension on campus and in the community, Ricky and Aaron's friendship stands out. A black and a Latino man always hanging out and laughing together is something the students rarely see.

"Why does it even matter what Aaron is?" Ricky asked the student.

The student explained that blacks have different cultural values from Latinos and they're from different gangs. He said he didn't have any black friends and he fights with blacks a lot.

"So do you listen to hip-hop?" Ricky asked.

"Yeah, doesn't everyone?"

"Who do you think sings that?"

"I don't know."

"It's a black guy!" Ricky laughed.

The student claimed that hip-hop is different, but couldn't back up his argument.

Ricky asked the student who annoys him other than his classmates. The student replied that his little brother is annoying.

"Do you think the way he acts is special to him and your race, or do you think all kids do it?" Ricky asked.

Stumped again, the student didn't have a comeback. Ricky was able to give the student a perspective about black people—from one Latino man to another—that he had never heard before.

Of course, as City Year corps members, our focus is on boosting academics, but having a diverse team of young people matters. The 16 of us at Markham include biracial, black, white, Latino, Cambodian, and Korean people. Despite our racial or ethnic differences, our students see us getting along, and we’re setting an example for how to befriend people who are different.

Realistically, it's hard to teach our students something that isn't also taught at home—and reaching every student at a 1,223-pupil school isn't doable. But, those students we haven’t directly connected with can't avoid seeing the positive, fun, loving, and caring way we interact with each other.

At City Year, we stress a philosophy called Ubuntu: "My humanity is tied to your humanity." If my teammates are able to help students think about race in a different light—and help them understand that we share more similarities than differences with each other—that’s a step forward to bringing peace to this school.

Photo via City Year Los Angeles

via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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