Diversity is division, creativity, and memelords.

That’s what a group of 20 middle schoolers told me during the first-ever Stories for Salem journalism workshop. The theme of the day was “What stories can you tell?” and to narrow the prompt, we had the kids focus on diversity.

The group was diverse in and of itself. There were the loud ones in the back. The quiet ones on the fringes. And the ones who fell somewhere in between up front.

Regardless of how seriously they took our first activity — decorating paper hands with the answer to the question, “What is diversity?” — they were all creative. And they all answered the question differently.

One girl drew a picture of a hand holding up a two-fingered peace sign, complete with a fingerless glove and a paintbrush, and then wrote “Creativity” across the front.

A boy traced his hand, and then asked our adviser to trace his big adult hand over it. When I asked the boy what it meant, he said, “It’s about how young people and old people can get along even though they’re different.”

Those were the quiet ones. The loud ones in the back, while quite chatty, produced some thoughtful work as well. One boy wrote one word in each finger of his hand, and included words like “gender” and “sexuality.”

The word the kids chose that made me think the hardest was “division.” Diversity can lead to beautiful things — like the hands — but diversity can also lead to not-so-beautiful things as well.

What some of these kids have picked up on is exactly what Stories for Salem was formed to tackle: The gaps in society bred by misunderstanding. It’s a privilege to live in a heterogeneous society, but it also requires more effort on the part of its citizens. People are born in different places, raised in different ways, and participate in different customs. Understanding doesn’t come as easily when we all look at the world through different eyes. The workshop kids are picking up on these caveats of diversity — and they want to talk about them. Getting a dialogue going at this age will help take the division out of diversity.

After I got home and starting reflecting on how the workshop went, I remembered one of my favorite quotes: “We all come from our own little planets. That’s why we’re all different. That’s what makes life interesting,” by the playwright Robert E. Sherwood.

At that workshop I saw 20 little planets staring at me, and I can’t wait to see how they’ll make each others’ lives more interesting.

Advertisements