By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Students Together Opposing Prejudice – S.T.O.P. – has announced plans for its seven-week middle school program next February and March. Described as an anti-prejudice youth education and leadership initiative, the sessions address all forms of discrimination.
Prejudice can negatively impact emotional well-being and a person’s sense of self. Discrimination can create feelings of shame, anger and sadness. Both can have long-term effects on both the victim and the perpetrators.
When her son came home from a birthday party announcing that someone told him, “all Muslims are terrorists,” Shrewsbury resident Farida Alam Huda decided she had to address the issue. She had heard about a program in Sudbury that helped young people understand why prejudice harms everyone. She contacted them, then spoke with a local church and was connected with Sabina Terrades, who has two special needs children.
“I’m very sensitive to those kinds of issues,” Terrades said. “My father is a Muslim; my mother is half Jewish, and I’m a Christian. I was very much bullied in middle school, and I know how it feels and how long you carry the pain in your life. I didn’t want my children to go through what I did.”
The two women learned how to set up the program and approached local religious organizations. They held their first meeting in the fall of 2007 and started the first student workshops in January of 2008 with a handful of students. Last year over 60 seventh- and eighth-graders from Shrewsbury and neighboring communities participated.
A typical meeting starts with a pizza dinner and a chance to socialize. Each week has a different theme with a variety of activities including a 15-minute presentation, skits, crafts, videos, games and small group discussions. Older students who have graduated from previous years’ programs volunteer to be the group facilitators and talk about their own experiences and what they’ve learned regarding the double whammy of discrimination and prejudice. The goal of the activities is to increase awareness, supply the skills needed to respond, build leadership in their own communities, and connect students who have experienced similar issues. Adult advisors are present at each session to lead the large group activities.
Sherin Ashkar teaches middle school at the Alhuda Academy in Worcester and has acted as an advisor for four years. Asked why she participates, she answered, “I love that the kids have a chance to talk about their own identity with others and learn about different religions and cultures.”
Meetings are held at participating organizations and local houses of worship. Participants from any nearby community are welcome. A $25 donation covers the basic costs, but scholarships are available for those in need. The group meets Thursday evenings from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Anyone who wants to register for the 2017 program can get details at www.shrewsburystop.org.
Terrades encourages anyone who has experienced prejudice for any reason to join the group.
She has a favorite quote: “Prejudice is a product of ignorance so teaching children about discrimination and bullying is the best way to change the world.”
“Any little act of kindness can have a great impact; it’s the ripple effect,” Terrades said.