The 2nd annual Youth Diversity & Inclusion Summit, sponsored jointly by DMPS and Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield, got off to a running start at Wellmark’s downtown headquarters Thursday morning. The formal proceedings didn’t kick off until 9:30 AM, but prior to that the event’s hashtag, #DSMDiversitySummit, was lighting up social media as student leaders from fourteen central Iowa high schools arrived for the event.
Recall that the impetus for last year’s inaugural summit was a racial epithet that marred the postgame handshaking ritual after a local football matchup between a suburban high school and one from the city.
Instead of fading into the fog of incivility, that incident spurred a ripple effect of outreach that continues to widen.
Roosevelt High School principal Kevin Biggs asked all of the student delegates at the summit to “pull your cool cards out and rip them up. Take the chance of talking to one another openly and honestly about what you see and hear at your schools.”
The teen change agents sat at tables with counterparts from other schools rather than clustering with their own classmates.
“A lot of you probably recognize each other from other events. Maybe you play sports against each other or compete at speech contests,” said Cory Jackson, Wellmark Health Management Consultant and one of the event’s organizers. “Today is a chance, not to compete, but to get to know each other and talk about concerns and issues you might have in common.”
The morning agenda was devoted to sensitivity training exercises on how to best respond to intolerance; get-acquainted discussions for students from the several different communities represented; and personal stories shared by people who know first-hand what it feels like to be the target of intolerance.
After lunch, each participating school buckled down to development of a customized action plan for a takeaway, bringing ideas and skills they picked up at the summit back to their high schools.
Besides all five comprehensive DMPS high schools, Ames, Ankeny Centennial, Dallas-Center Grimes, Johnston, Marshalltown, Oskaloosa, Southeast Polk, Waukee, and West Des Moines Valley also took part.