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Local Students Attend Summit on Race

Irondequoit High School is hosting a student summit on race today.

Nearly 200 students from schools throughout the Rochester the area and a small group of students from St. Louis and Ferguson Missouri will work in groups to explore race, racism, and white privilege.

The Ferguson students are part of the Gateway 2 Change project a movement that began after the 2014 shooting of an unarmed 18-year old black man by a white police officer. 

Irondequoit high school senior Gina DiPaolo is one of the organizers of today's summit.                  

"The topic of race and racism is truly an oppression that exists all across the United States and it's largely a topic that people don't talk about," she said. "I would like to think my generation - the tail end of the millennial generation - is the going to be the group of people who are going to take on racism head-on. I think it's important that we begin this conversation at our young age of fifteen, seventeen, eighteen."

Thomas Cuyler, a senior from Rochester's School Without Walls, is attending today's event.  He hopes students can have what he calls an honest conversation about race.

"It's not usually an honest conversation. People won't admit that a 12-year old boy playing with a toy gun in the park can be shot and killed but these grown white men who stormed the federal building with guns and are calling out the government won't be touched. People say 'well, that's different,' but it's not. That's blatant racism, but people don't see it like that."

Students at today's summit will discuss possible solutions to racism. Cuyler believes one answer is a more positive portrayal of minority communities in the media.

"There's more to their community and their culture than violence, which is being portrayed on TV. A lot of us our doing immaculate things, and we don't hear about that.  All we hear about is ' oh, a group of black kids are fighting at the transit center.' Nobody is talking about black kids graduating, or working at a program at Strong Hospital, or creating our own programs. We don't hear about that. We just hear about the negatives."

DiPaola notices examples of what she views as a type of unintended racial segregation in her own school.

“At Irondequoit High School, there is a commons area with four tables. More often than not, I see a table with solely white students and a table with solely black students. Obviously, those students did not consciously decide to sit with members of their own race, but I think it’s sad. I think those unconscious biases permeate our society and we don’t even realize how we unintentionally separate ourselves.”

Cuyler and DiPaola agree that the first step to combat racism is to open the lines of communication.

Those conversations can be awkward and difficult, but Gina believes it's easier for her generation.                   

"I think that's largely due to social media. Students now have access to speak their mind 24/7. I think that's definitely shown through everyday conversations. They tweet their minds, and therefore, they speak their minds."

This afternoon, students at today's Summit on Race will vote on one solution they'd like to work on together.

They'll present their findings at an event on Saturday morning. 

Irondequoit senior Joab Louis is hoping students keep the conversations going within their families and communities, even if that sometimes feels uncomfortable.

"To have the conversation, I think you just have to look at the world around us and the events that have been occurring recently, and look at it for what it is, and be mindful of the younger generation that is having this courageous dialogue. Be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable, and try to replicate what (young people) are doing."