By Ed Brock
In a back room at the Henry County Education Center in Stockbridge, human diversity was being compared to an apple.
Students from several Henry County schools and the Morrow High School Rhythm And Poetry Club, together attending the Respecting Equally All Cultures in Henry County forum, broke into groups, each with an apple. They took turns listing general features of each apple and then telling Henry County Professional Learning Coordinator Anita Richardson specific characteristics of their particular piece of fruit.
Then Richardson began cutting open each apple and showing the insides, giving 14-year-old MHS student Makeda Marcelle the answer to the exercise.
"The point is that no matter how it looks on the outside it's all the same on the inside," Marcelle said.
That was the point of the exercise and of the REACH forum held Monday night at which the RAP Club members were special guests. Human beings, despite their external differences, are also alike on the inside.
Richardson and RAP Club sponsor and MHS English teacher Hollis Ball came up with the idea for the joint meeting of their students after they met at a conference in early October.
"We've been communicating through e-mail ever since," Ball said.
Both student programs are less than three years old. Students are selected to participate in the REACH forums for various reasons and with the hope that they will bring what they learn back to their schools, Richardson said.
Ball formed the RAP Club to give students an outlet for their creativity and a way to channel their anger into positive poetry.
The students had plenty to say and contribute.
Richardson started the session with a series of questions to which the students answered yes by standing up. She asked if they had walked out of a movie early, if they'd ever hiked up a mountain or been out of the country. That exercise also showed the students that they each have things in common with one another even if they look different from one another.
"But the point is we're all different for a reason," Richardson said. "We all bring something of value to the environment that we're in."
Ball told the more than 20 students that "I don't want any of you to think that what you're doing here is small. It's a great thing."
Ball's students then took turns reading their poems to the group.
"I've got a trigger on my left and book on my right," Paul Uyanga rapped. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Am I going to read? Am I going to fight?"
Uyanga performed the same rap at the club's poetry slam last year. He called Monday's forum "a very productive and enlightening experience."
After the apple exercise Richardson talked to the students about why people focus on the differences in one individual, saying that people form opinions of each other in the first seven seconds of meeting each other. She told them that they had to find a way to deal with their differences without violence.
Uchenna Osuji, a student at Dutchtown Middle School in Stockbridge, offered a tip.
"It's only human nature to make observations about people you just met," Osuji said. "But you don't have to say it out loud if you know it's going to hurt."
Ball and Richardson said they thought the forum was a hit.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the activities and the students' willingness to communicate on difficult issues," Ball said.
"I love working with students, they're very truthful, very honest, and they're very insightful," Richardson said. "People don't give them enough credit for how insightful they are."