The overarching goal of the Diversity Leadership Project is to help high school students across the country become stronger leaders among their peers – now and in college.
The program empowers high school students to create a more accepting, diverse community, and prepares them to face social justice issues head-on in an effective, collaborative manner.
The project gives students the opportunity to work in small peer groups to research, gain understanding, and develop real-world solutions to issues they identify in their community.
This process increases the participants’ awareness of other cultures, as well as gives them a chance to contemplate and explore their own culture. This type of experiential learning encourages teens to befriend peers whose beliefs differ from their own worldview.
Because of this, they develop a greater empathy for social justice issues and an understanding of how bias affects our communities every day.
Centennial High School
Class of 2016
“What grows best in this heat is poverty” were my grandfather’s words to me as we passed the fields of rice and wheat as we travelled down a bumpy narrow stretch of highway from Rajiv Gandhi International Airport to my ancestral home of Erragadda, India. Within a few minutes, I realized this wasn’t going to be the typical summer vacation.
Although I was born in India and much of my family remains there today, most of my youth has been spent in suburban Franklin, Tennessee, where mostly white families drive their Polo-clad children around in large SUVs to their next lacrosse match or golf lesson. Nothing—absolutely nothing—could have prepared me for the poverty that dotted the landscape of my home country or the massive clouds of pollution that filled the skies and caused my eyes to burn.
I was in Erragadda to work with my grandfather’s company and train the locals, mostly Hindu, on technologies that we take for granted every day, namely computers and cell phones. Perhaps the distribution of technology, more than any other visible factor, underscores the chasm between wealth and poverty in India. Distribution of technology is therefore almost a moral and humanitarian issue.
One of the students that I met was roughly my age and the only similarity we shared was our skin color. She was Hindu and I’m Catholic. She had never held a smartphone or even surfed the Internet. When looking for common ground in conversation, I turned my attention to music, the universal language of teenagers. Much to my surprise, she had never even heard of Taylor Swift. She taught me the happiness that comes with a life without technology and I taught her the happiness that comes with using technology.
I understand that technology can be the greatest vehicle for innovation, education, and change in any country and that we all have a shared responsibility to disseminate technology that will address the basic needs of our youth.
Over the course of a short summer, I was able to help my peers transcend their circumstances and empower them with the mere touch of a smart phone to reach a broader world, opening up access to education, healthcare, and their relatives who may only live a few miles away in a very cost-effective and meaningful way. I never realized that the mobile phone that I use to take selfies of my friends and myself is potentially the most powerful tool for increasing literacy across our planet.
I have learned that technology brings empowerment. As a result, students my age and even younger can become a part of a larger dialogue and contribute to and engage in a broad range of social, political, and economic spheres that were impossible only a few years ago.
It has been said that talent is universal but opportunity is not. In India, as in the ghettos of Chicago or the Bronx, where you live can determine the rest of your life. It occurred to me that summer just how much one’s circumstances can also dictate their opportunities in life. Having been raised in suburban America, the world has been my oyster.
I take cell phones for granted and upgrade to the newest iPhone every chance I get. But the tragedy is that I can’t say the same for my friends in India who work in the wheat fields and rice patties to make ends meet. It is undeniably a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy that I can help to reverse and that technology can have the power to overcome.