The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Ohio sponsors a $100,000 “Stop the Hate” essay contest for 6th-12th grade students.
The following paragraphs, from their website, describe the reason behind the essay. Stop the Hate® Youth Speak Out celebrates students committed to creating a more accepting, inclusive society. By reflecting on real-life situations and detailing ways to make a positive difference in the world, this next generation of leaders can win big.
Stop the Hate® is designed to create an appreciation and understanding among people of differing religions, races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. By challenging young people to consider the benefits of a more inclusive society, the consequences of intolerance and the role of personal responsibility in effecting change, the contest also reflects Jewish values of responsible citizenship and respect for all humanity. You can also watch their chilling 12-minute film called HATE.
This year they honored the memory and spirit of Anne Frank, a young girl who famously wrote:
How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straight away.
Anne Frank was 13 years old when she was forced into hiding during the Holocaust. She hid in a tiny annex for two years with her mother, father, sister, and four other Dutch Jews fearing for their lives because of their religion. Despite the isolation and terrifying realities of her time, Anne remained optimistic about the power of every individual to change the world. Anne and her family were caught and murdered by the Nazis and she became one of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust. But the words live on to remind the generations that followed her that anyone – young or old – can positively change the world.
Over 75 years later, what can we learn from Anne’s perspective on human nature and creating a more accepting and inclusive society? Is justice something that requires individuals to create or pursue? Can every day, regular people change the world?
Students, grades 6 – 12, were challenged to think about their own life. Have they witnessed or experienced acts of injustice, racism, bigotry, or discrimination? How were they impacted by what they experienced, saw, or heard? What did they do, or what would they do, in response to these circumstances in order to create justice and positive change in their community?
In the fifth grade, a few guys in my class began making fun of Grant. I don’t know why he was the target, only that I joined in with the reoccurring taunts. That was bullying. And I knew better.
Also, in elementary school, Stanley made fun of me while playing scatter ball (think dodgeball with volleyballs!). Standing in line to leave the class, I threw my first punch toward him. Coach Porter saw me swinging. I then received a few swats with the paddle in front of the entire gym class (that’s discipline – 1980s style). Was I a victim of bullying or was I just very competitive and hated losing?
In seventh grade, for reasons unknown, John circulated a letter about me (think texting with pen and paper!). While I don’t remember reading the letter, I heard, from those who did, that he wrote a lot of hateful and untrue comments about me. Karla, the largest girl in our class, asked my permission to beat him up. I remember saying thanks but no, because I was already humiliated – without knowing the content of the letter – and just wanted it to stop. The principal eventually intervened.
In each instance, there was an element of hate. Nothing to the level of what teenagers deal with today. And nothing to the level that Anne Frank experienced 75 years ago.
Many Ohio students wrote about their experience with hatred. Middle school students wrote about the hate that comes through bullying, school shootings, synagogue attacks, and cruelty to animals.
Upperclassmen recounted the hate that comes from language barriers, being an immigrant, dating someone with a different ethnicity, and being a member of a transracial adoptive family.
The younger students seem to identify hate happening to other people while the older students feel the personal impact of hate.
Some hate comes from misunderstanding. Some from pure hatred.
What I learned is that students can identify hate, wrong, injustice, and immoral behavior, but are hesitant to intervene because they are afraid of retaliation (they needed a Karla in their corner!).
Many students admitted that they didn’t take personal responsibility to stop the hate. Some were emotionally or physically paralyzed. In retrospect, all wished they would have said or done something. The younger students worried if the student would turn the weapon on them for informing a teacher about the girl talking about harming herself. They wondered if they would get ridiculed or bullied for standing up to protect a boy being harassed at lunch.
One female recalled a story about a boy harassing her in the third grade. After attempting to ignore the boy for weeks, she finally punched him in the face. Then she was given in-school suspension. Reflecting on this incident years later, she concluded that in order to create change, she learned she had to be the change.
A female upperclassman concluded that, “a safe environment for people to grow is created by a community that wants to listen and learn.”
Many are in the process of being an agent of change and learning how to stand up against hate.
As a Christian, I know that “God is love” and that we’re encouraged to “turn the other cheek.” We all know that standing up against hate will not be easy, but as these students have demonstrated, once we recognize the hate, none of us can remain silent.
So, whenever you have the opportunity, do good to everyone (Galatians 6:10).
Through student ministry and educational consulting (career and college planning), I have enjoyed guiding teenagers to discover their higher calling.