Wow – Opening day for Kidz Connect was yesterday, and sappy as I am, I was so moved that I literally had to fight back tears. Watching the kids enter the room, wait in awkward silence for something to happen, nervously introduce themselves and talk about what they knew – or wished to know – about the workshop was so moving somehow. Behind the scenes, we’ve been working on the project for months. And finally, here are the teens! As our very charismatic and amiable director Lisa Powers told them, “You are the missing piece…. This is your creation.”
And it was so obvious to see how fantastic, and not to exaggerate, but how life-changing this workshop can be for these young people! By the end of the first hour, you could already see budding friendships beginning to emerge. By the end of the day, the awkwardness was gone, the teens were happy and feeling comfortable with each other.
Even though we don’t connect with our Amsterdam counterparts until today, the cultural exchange has begun! We have participating students of several different nationalities and races and every person in the room attends a different school.
In my experience, Tampa can be a city where you have to work to befriend folks who are different from yourself. We have diversity but not always a lot of intermingling and at least in my neighborhood, there isn’t even much diversity, so it’s thrilling to see everyone coming together.
People always talk about “tolerance,” but I think the word should be “appreciation.” Our differences set our nation apart and make our country, and our community, amazing. Kidz Connect is already serving as a way to teach about that appreciation. Not to harp on the diversity topic, but the main point of the workshop – even though it involves singing, dancing, computers and drama – is about cultural exchange. And when the students went around the room to say what they already knew about the project, most mentioned getting to know people in Amsterdam. When asked what they already knew about Amsterdam, only one girl raised her hand to offer that she’d heard about riots there and that marijuana is legal. So we have a long way to go on our journey. We are just embarking and as Lisa told the students, “We’ll see what we’re going to do!”