All they ask is that you show up and listen

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2000

&uot;Your presence is your statement.&uot; It’s a simple request. The Natchez Mayor’s Youth Council is sponsoring a Rally Against Racism tomorrow, and all they’re asking is that you — and I, and everyone else — be there.

Members of the Mayor’s Youth Council, a group of 36 high school students from public and private schools, believe racism is holding Natchez back.

And they are willing to take steps to bring us into the future.

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It’s their response to the challenge of Make a Difference Day, a national movement begun by USA Weekend magazine and the Points of Light Foundation.

Groups all over the Miss-Lou will be holding Make a Difference Day projects tomorrow: They’ll be feeding the hungry, visiting seniors, giving teachers a needed break.

Those groups need volunteers, too, to give just a few hours of their time to people who need it, and I’d encourage anyone interested to take part.

But by far, the Mayor’s Youth Council’s request is the simplest.

Just be there. For an hour, just listen.

At the 1 p.m. event at the Main Street Marketplace in downtown Natchez, the youth council will have speakers — both members of their group and their classmates — to give personal stories.

I listened to some of those personal stories last week when I sat in on one of the council’s planning sessions.

They took one look at me in my jeans with my hair pulled back and thought I was one of them.

But after the conversation I shared with these young leaders, I can assure you it was flattering to be considered one of them.

It’s a diverse group, but they share at least one thing in common: They are incredible overachievers.

They are athletes, students, classroom leaders.

But my favorite thing about them, I think, is how candidly they can speak with each other.

How many times do we want to reach out to someone who isn’t &uot;like us,&uot; only to be stopped by fear?

But these students can laugh with each other about how ridiculous it is to sit on opposite sides of the cafeteria or to make assumptions whether members of an entire race eat Cheetoes or drink Dr. Pepper.

When the students first began talking about the idea of holding a rally against racism, Mayor’s Youth Council member Michael Anderson decided to try an experiment.

He said &uot;hi&uot; to people at Natchez High he wouldn’t normally greet, people whose skin color isn’t the same as his.

He got strange looks the first day, but by the second day, his smile and his wave were returned.

&uot;I think we can make this happen,&uot; Michael said after telling his story to his fellow youth council members.

His gesture is a simple one, as simple as showing up tomorrow and standing on the lawn and listening.

And all you have to do is show up.

It’s Saturday. We want to spend time with our families. We want to take the day off, not worry about anything.

But all they’re asking is that you show up.

And listen. Maybe learn something.

By the way, a few of the Mayor’s Youth Council members may be late to tomorrow’s rally. Many of them are taking the ACT test tomorrow morning.

But even after a grueling morning of No. 2 pencils and multiple choice questions, they’ll be there.

Because their presence is their statement.

Kerry Whipple is news editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3562 or by e-mail at