High school is often a time of judgment and isolation. At New Garden Friends School, where the students are encouraged to accept their differences and create a loving community, discrimination can sometimes feel like a distant notion. Last Friday, the NGFS Upper Division took time out of their weekly all-school meeting for worship to let us share a film and open up conversation about prejudice and tolerance.
In “Hawo’s Dinner Party,” a 30-minute adaptation of the full-length documentary, Welcome to Shelbyville, a small town in Tennessee confronts their issues of intolerance with dialogue. Shelbyville has had difficulty integrating the influx of Hispanic immigrant workers since the ‘90s and, more recently, of mostly Muslim refugees from Somalia and other war-torn countries. Stereotypes run rampant, not only in the “buzz around town,” but even in a series of articles published in the town newspaper.
One woman, a Somali refugee, with help from her ESL and civics teacher, has been trying to open up dialogue in the community, so that different groups throughout the town can start to see each other as real people, not just a “them.” Hawo decides to host a dinner party, inviting several women from the neighborhood to share a meal at her home. It is in this type of venue that people begin to have some questions answered and misunderstandings become lessons learned.
Active Voice, a non-profit organization that uses different media to put a human face to public policy, provided a grant to FaithAction International House, joined with Church World Service and AFSC-Greensboro, to screen this version of the film around the 10th anniversary of September 11th to promote conversation about the Muslim community and Islamaphobia. We were excited for the opportunity to continue the work we started during the Windows and Mirrors events. After screening the film twice in the community, we were asked to bring the event to New Garden’s high schoolers.
After viewing the short film, the 70 high-schoolers divided into eight groups, each facilitated by a teacher or AFSC staff. Initially, the students discussed the film itself, and their reactions to certain scenes or moments, and then began to make connections with their own lives. Students were influenced by many factors, including their hometown location, their parents’ political views, or their ethnicity. Some groups showed less diversity than others, but this provided the students with an opportunity to examine their own privilege and the isolation that can come with it.
Coming back together in a large circle, representatives from each group shared an idea or two that was prevalent in their discussion. As a whole, the inclusion of our immigrant neighbors was what resonated most loudly, since, as we thought about our family history, everyone in the room only had to look back a few generations to find a brave soul who travelled to America looking to provide their family with a better life.