I am lucky, or at the least very fortunate that in my life I have been on both sides of the “fence” or in this case all three sides of the fence. I have lived in suburban, urban, and rural areas. I have lived in very nice areas of the country (Diamond Bar in LA County and Alpharetta in North Fulton near Atlanta ), I have lived in some of the worse areas of the country (Southwest side of Chicago and East Cleveland) and also spent time in some of the most rural areas of the country (Tupelo, MS). I have some familiarity with various types of people, places and things.
I am lucky, but most do not get the opportunity to see and actively experience the different sides of this fence, especially the impoverished demographic in America. In a world that still assumes things should be separate, when isolation of difference is easier than integration of diversity, and where socially many choose to “stay with their own kind”, there is still hope brought from non-profits organizations like Ohio Youth Voices (OYV). This organization brings high school students of different racial and socio-economic backgrounds together to fight for youth to have a voice in government. I was very fortunate to be apart of this group in high school.
On the very first OYV meeting, back when I was in 11th grade, I encountered this “difference” in a very interesting way. Students from across the state gathered in Columbus, Ohio to create the very first Ohio Youth Agenda for economic and educational success. Once this isolation between different types of people is broken down, people will then realize proper etiquette when interacting with each other. One teenage white girl from southern Ohio called a black friend of mine “colored.” The white girl was not racist and did not mean to offend anyone; she simply was ignorant to the fact that African Americans in the 21st century do not generally label themselves as “colored.” This is one small example of how Ohio Youth Voices brings students together and begins to break down racial divides.
When people are isolated, and not given a chance to interact with different types of individuals, then racial, cultural, and societal ignorance will inevitably continue to exist. OYV brings all different types of students to one place and encourages them to talk openly about their lives and the issues they face.
Another aspect to OYV is their urban-rural area visits. In this process, students from urban areas visit the schools and neighborhoods of students from rural areas and vice-versa. These visits are geared towards breaking down stereotypes and creating an open discussion between students of different backgrounds who would usually never interact with each other. The most popular response to all the students is realizing that we are all more alike than we are different. Through the issues on the youth agenda, young people from around the state realize a lot of the problems that they encounter, are the same problems that other students go through in different parts of the state.
I am convinced that Non-Profit organizations are one of the very few hopes for the future. Ohio Youth Voices continues to be a beacon of hope, by breaking down this racial divide that has soiled our country for far too many decades.