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L.A. Students Get a Lesson in Tolerance

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

A rash of violent, potentially hate-based, crimes has marked the beginning of summer. New Jersey authorities arrested a skinhead for threatening two Latino teenagers with a chainsaw. In Texas, two men beat and sodomized another Latino teen because they thought he tried to kiss a white girl. And a New Yorker was recently convicted of beating an African-American man with a baseball bat while yelling the n-word. These incidents share one thing in common, as do the majority of hate crimes: they were all perpetrated by young men.

In Los Angeles, the Museum of Tolerance uses multimedia to get young people to grapple with hate and bigotry and history and in their own lives. Robin Urevich visited the Museum with a group from a Compton middle school, where, last year, fights broke out between Latino and African-American students.

ROBIN UREVICH reporting:

This year, students at Whaley Middle School have been working on getting along. They sampled the food and learned the dances of African-American and Latino cultures. Now, they gather around museum guide Emily Hope(ph). She leads off the museum tour with a discussion of prejudice.

Ms. EMILY HOPE (Tour Guide, Museum of Tolerance): How about if you get a new kid in your class, do you judge that person before you know them?

STUDENTS: Yes.

Ms. HOPE: Right. We do this all the time. We judge people before we know anything about them, for a number of different reasons.

Good, you guys. Please follow me this way.

UREVICH: Hope issues this challenge; will they walk through a green neon lighted door for those who aren't prejudice, or a red one for those who are?

Ms. HOPE: A lot of people they want to walk through this door. We keep this door locked, the unprejudiced door, because, like we just talked about, we all have the potential to prejudge people before we know anything about them. Good, you guys. We're going to walk through the prejudice door.

UREVICH: A few minutes later, the group turns to a series of images. The bloody face of a woman injured in the Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center towers in flames, and a bearded dark skinned man wearing a turban.

Unidentified Boy: That's Gosamo something, something.

Ms. HOPE: You think it's Osama bin Laden? That is a perfect answer, because it's not Osama bin Laden. That man is the brother of a man who was murdered a few days after September 11. A man saw him and he assumed that he was associated with the terrorist attacks.

(Soundbite of Martin Luther King Speech)

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (Civil Rights Activist): We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.

UREVICH: The group watches historic footage of the civil rights movement and sees World War II era Nazi propaganda aimed at Jews.

Getting on the bus at the end of the tour, 12-year old Deandre(ph) found he learned a lot about recent history and how to apply it in his life.

DEANDRE: I learned about how violent everybody can be, but one person could change, and like how our voices, if they are heard, can change the earth.

UREVICH: Educating the average citizen is key in preventing hate and bigotry says UCLA psychology professor Ed Dunbar, who studies hate crime. He says programs like the museum tour are one way to get otherwise passive bystanders and schools and neighborhoods to speak up when they hear racial slurs or harassment.

Professor ED DUNBAR (Professor of Psychology, UCLA): If you don't have any kind of sense of a groundswell of saying this is not what we want to have happen in our classroom, on our school campus, in our neighborhood, the vulnerability, the risk, simply rises.

UREVICH: So far, Whaley Middle School's efforts seem to be paying off. This year ended with no racially motivated violence.

For NPR News, I'm Robin Urevich, in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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