Anytown Program Leads Student to National Prize

March 18, 2016

After participating in YWCA Central Alabama’s social justice leadership programs, Katie Klasing was inspired to make the world – or at least her part of it – more inclusive for all. That mindset, and the actions that followed, have earned her national recognition.

Katie, a senior at Mountain Brook High School, was the first Alabama winner of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, which recognizes young people who are working to increase understanding and mutual respect among all races. The prize includes a $1,000 award, and Katie will participate in the Princeton Prize Symposium on Race next month at Princeton University.

After attending Anytown Alabama, a week-long social justice camp, the summer before her junior year, Katie was motivated to help bring the YW’s Heritage Panel back to her school. “Heritage Panel promotes racial harmony and acceptance by increasing awareness of racial barriers and by breaking personal boundaries,” she said. “We share with each other our own heritage and what makes us unique, which gives everyone an opportunity to learn acceptance of other people’s differences, a skill we then try to take with us beyond the walls of our high school.”

To do that, Katie started a student exchange program between Mountain Brook, where minority students make up 3 percent of the student population, and Wenonah High School, which has a primarily black student body. “The participating students will get to experience a day in the life of others whose backgrounds are entirely different from their own,” Katie said. “I am optimistic that real friendships will be made through this process that will continue on for much longer than the duration of the exchange program.”

Katie, who will attend Oglethorpe University next year, said she is grateful for the impact the YW’s programs have had on her life. In addition to Anytown, a collaboration with the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), she also participates in Peace Birmingham, a monthly dialogue that allows teenagers from different cultures and faiths to build relationships with one another. Started as a project of Temple Emanu-El, Peace Birmingham became a YWCA program in 2013.

“Seeing the world from different points of view really opened my mind and my heart to new opportunities,” Katie said.  “Each of these programs promotes understanding and respect. The participants develop truly meaningful relationships with each other, not just superficial feelings that people either pretend to have or forget about as soon as they leave.”

In addition to Katie, three other students, all of whom participated in YW programs, were recognized for their contributions to race relations. Trevor Webster of Moody High School, Berucha Cintron of Jackson-Olin High School, and Emma Turner of Indian Springs School were all runners-up and awarded Certificates of Merit.

“They are all very deserving, and I am so proud of them,” said Rebecca Harkless, coordinator of social justice programs for the YW. “They’ve taken the things they have learned and worked to create better race relations, not only within their schools but in the whole Birmingham community, as well.”
 
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