This past weekend, the Parents of African American Students (PAAS) and the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) hosted their first ever Diversity Matters event. The event, which was held in the auditorium and the cafeteria, focused on different ways of advocating diversity. There were local speakers as well as an international tasting of different cuisines from countries all around the world.
“Last year, I learned that Howard County was commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the desegregation of Howard County Schools. PAAS began planning this event in the fall, and I thought it would be unifying for both organizations to host the event together,” explained Sharese Essien, a member of PAAS.
Starting off the night was Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman. Kittleman began the discussion by speaking about his childhood and family history. He discussed his late father’s campaign throughout Howard County. Kittlemen mentioned his father’s achievements, which included becoming the president of the Howard County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Kittleman grew up during the age of desegregation of Howard County Public Schools. He explained how he wishes to preserve the past in order to learn from our mistakes. He specifically mentioned a desire to preserve Harriet Tubman High School, an African-American segregated school that was the last to be shut down in 1965, as a reminder of the progress the county has made.
After an applause for Kittleman’s monologue, Patrick O’Guinn, a former professor from Howard County Community College, came up to address the audience.
Opening up with past experiences as well, O’Guinn discussed challenges many kids possibly face today while making a connection to his teenage years growing up in Compton, CA. O’Guinn went on to highlight topics regarding change in Howard County. He engaged the audience by asking them questions throughout his speech.
“What do you see when you look around the room?” asked O’Guinn. “Let me tell what you see, the reason why you all are here is because you care. So I want you to give everyone a hand for caring and showing up here.”
Afterwards, O’Guinn went around the room asking many people to define diversity and what it means to each person. After about a half an hour, the discussion came to a close, moving the rest of the night to the cafeteria.
“I took away that there are no proper definitions for the terms we use in our day to day lives,” senior Cydnee Jordan said about the speakers’ messages. “I appreciated the sentiment, but I felt like the students who attend the school should have participated in speaking.”
“In preparing for the event, I attended a similar commemoration sponsored by the Howard County Historical Society where I previously saw the Howard County Executive, Allan Kittleman and Professor Patrick O’Guinn,” described Essien. “They both did an excellent presentation that was engaging, and I thought they would be very effective for our school community.”
Inside the cafeteria, there was a plethora of finger foods, varying from different types of spices, colors and textures. There were more than 20 different types of dishes, spanning from approximately 15 countries. Many servers came dressed in their culture’s clothing and thoroughly explained the background of their dishes. There was a great deal of mingling between both students and adults, including previous Mt. Hebron alumni.
“I absolutely loved the dinner,” said sophomore Rachel Elkis. “I thought it was a really amazing idea. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the different food and talking to people from different backgrounds about their culture.”
Having it be the first year this event was hosted, Essien seemed to be very proud of the festivity.
“I hope there will be a similar event in the future but slightly different. I hope our school community can do an event where we still have an international food reception but also featuring entertainment from various cultures in our community,” said Essien.
The reception was full of laughter and discussion, making the night a true success for everyone.