ELYRIA — What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said about you? What’s the best?
These were the questions posed to students at Elyria Schools’ Eastern Heights Middle School on Tuesday when Brian Anthony, from the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio, delivered a presentation called “#rethinklabels.”
During the hour-long presentation in which students were broken down by grade level, Anthony showed them several photos depicting an African-American man with dreadlocks, a Muslim woman and a girl in a wheelchair.
He asked the students to give the people labels, most of which were linked with stereotypes, which he then stripped away.
“We label people, even unconsciously,” he said. “And that’s OK, but it’s what we do after we make those labels that matter.”
Guidance counselor Heather Wervey said the assembly was part of the school’s anti-bullying task force, which has a different theme every year.
She said this year’s theme was based on “being the nice kid.”
“It’s something we tell the students every day on the morning announcements and when I saw Brian’s program, I thought it was something that would fit really well with it,” she said. “It’s all about thinking about how we label and judge people and it really emobodies this theme.”
Wervey said she feels as though the program shows children that they’re not alone in being labeled.
“A lot of kids go through and think they’re the only ones being judged but this can show them that it’s not just them,” she said.
Anthony had the students write down the labels they had been given — the worst and the best — and then had them rip up the worst thing to show it didn’t have to have power over them.
Lauren Ripley, an eighth-grader at the school, said that was her favorite part of the assembly.
“The whole thing was uplifting,” she said. “But getting to tear up the paper made me feel better because I let those bad things stick with me, but it showed they don’t have to.”
Anthony, who used to be a social studies teacher before joining the Diversity Center, said he’s done assemblies at other places where the adults participate as well to aid in this message, and it shows students that adults can struggle with being labeled as well.
“I have these kids just for an hour,” he said. “So, it’s not like I can change everything about how they judge people, but it gets them starting to think about how we unconsciously judge, and it plants that seed of thinking how we can see others and ourselves differently.”
Anthony said the presentation is about getting students to see past the “what” for the “who.”
“There’s a power in words,” he said.