Positive Voices: Join the teens standing up to racism

School children from a community college in the north of England are gearing up to join people around the world who are taking part in the UN’s Elimination of Racial Discrimination Day on 21 March.

The teenagers are part of a group called Positive Voices, who meet weekly through International Alert’s Advocating Against Islamophobia in Education (ADVISE) project. This is empowering them to understand the root causes of Islamophobia and create the change they want to see in their everyday lives.

Last year, the group inspired a range of ideas for using technology to counter online hate speech during our #peacehack event in London, an initiative that brings designers, developers and peace practitioners together to build peace. They are now building on this project by turning to social media to fight racism. This is often a space where hateful, polarising comments can quickly spiral, but it can also be a platform to inspire positive actions.

Across this week the group are planning activities at Marsden Heights, their college in Brierfield, East Lancashire, which is home to a big Pakistani diaspora community.

Posters have been plastered around the college, preparations for special assemblies are being finalised, and a campaign called #I_Am has been launched. This is inviting every young person in the college to speak out against racial stereotypes and share a message on social media of how they want to be defined. A booth bearing a large 3D cut out of the hashtag has been set up at the school and this will become a hub of activity.

A wall of action was created to raise awareness about racial discrimination

“We’re hoping it will educate more people about racism, to get people from different races to be as one so people can know that there’s nothing wrong with being different”, said a young woman from Pakistani heritage who is behind the campaign.

The conversation won’t end online though, nor will it be limited to 21 March. The Positive Voices group are using the day to kick-start wider discussions about racial discrimination in their classes over the following week in an effort to inspire their peers – and teachers – to learn more and take action.

Racism is an issue close to home for many of group members. About half of them have either experienced it themselves or know friends who have faced abuse.

“When my friends have experienced racial discrimination they have said that it makes them feel as if they are less important, that they are seen as less important”, said another young woman. “I would like people to stop seeing it as something we just have to put up with. There is no reason for it to be part of society.”

Through being part of Positive Voices and our ADVISE project, the teenagers have reported they feel more “open minded” and able to see “a bigger picture of racism.”

“The youth group has given me the confidence to voice my opinion to other people. It has opened my eyes to the problems in our community and made me enthusiastic to help resolve these,” said one teenager.

“It has helped me gain confidence so I can go on to educate people on negative attitudes against diversity. It has made me consider others more, and to think about what’s best for them”, reported another group member.

Take part in the #I_AM campaign

> Join everyone at Marsden Heights and stand up to racial discrimination on 21 March. Tweet a message of what defines you using the hashtag #I_AM.
> Find out more about our ADVISE project.