Canon-McMillan celebrates diversity

February 10, 2014
A panel of diverse and distinguished people addressed a crowd of Canon-McMillan High School students Monday during the school’s Celebration of Diversity in American History. The assembly challenged students and teachers to embrace America’s culturally diverse past. - Francesca Sacco / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

It’s bothersome to Canon-McMillan High School Assistant Principal Heath Bailey that in 2014, diversity is still an issue.

As a African-American man, Bailey said it took a 2007 trip out the country and an encounter with European teenagers to feel like an American.

“Until then, I was the big, black guy,” Bailey said. “I wear my passion on my sleeve. I am devoted to equality and want everyone to feel like they belong.”

Bailey, with the help and support of the district, spearheaded an event to incorporate the topic into students’ curriculum and to celebrate Black History Month. “A Celebration of Diversity in American History” included an assorted group of men and women who have worked toward social justice and educational equity, including television and radio personality Chris Moore, actor Lamman Rucker and athlete J.R. Holden. Bailey said he was able to use his personal connections to compose a panel full of interesting, well-respected individuals.

Although the district has a large student body, Bailey said fewer than five percent are African-Americans or other minorities.

“True diversity is not having a need for these programs,” he said.

The assembly, which was open to 11th-grade and African-American students, included a brief introduction of the panelists, a discussion and questions from students.

Panel member Jason Rivers, the program manager of the equity office for Pittsburgh Public Schools, shared his story of growing up as a biracial person. Although not always easy, Rivers said his parents taught him to embrace and celebrate his racial diversity.

“We need to understand the ones around us, see how we blend and move on,” Rivers said.

Like the others, Moore shared his encounters with racial inequalities, and what it was like to grow up in a segregated neighborhood. He challenged students and teachers to seek and introduce America’s rich history outside of history books.

“We need to understand how diverse we are,” he said.

Bailey hopes to continue to introduce diversity into the high school’s curriculum. He expects to have similar events in the future, and has the support of the district’s administration. Assistant Superintendent Scott Chambers was pleased with the event and was thankful for Bailey’s hard work.

“I don’t believe we would ever have had the opportunity for a collection of individuals such as this,” he said. “Hopefully, the students will take away that they can make a difference in their own way.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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