Developing Diversity

Lucy Cohen, News Section Editor

Are you ready to become a ‘Troublemaker of the Best Kind?’” was the slogan for the Cultural Leadership intiative that spoke to CHS graduate Maalik Shakoor when he learned of a program designed to help teenagers gain a better understanding of the African American-Jewish experience.

While at Clayton, Shakoor was inducted into a group of other sophomores and juniors, known as class 8. Shakoor has a knack for social justice and believed this would the perfect opportunity.

“I wanted to do Cultural Leadership because I liked what they stood for,” Shakoor said. “I felt it would be a great learning opportunity, not only about unspoken or unheard black heroes, but also some influential Jewish activist.”

Cultural Leadership is designed for both middle schoolers and high schoolers. There is Camp Cultural Leadership, a summer camp for middle school aged kids, and a year-long program for high schoolers looking to get more involved.

In the high school year-long program, sophomores and juniors participate in a year of cultural activities, dialogue sessions, public speaking, leadership training, retreats and much more. The goal of the program is for the students to increase their awareness of the religion, culture and history of others.

When the students apply, they go through a process of filling out an application and being interviewed before they are fully accepted. Once they are allowed into the program, they have to pay tuition and are inducted into a class full of other students from the St. Louis area.

To be apart of Cultural Leadership, the applicants must have showed a strong amount of curiosity, maturity, leadership and a sense of civic responsibility.

CHS sophomore Izzy Newmark joined Cultural Leadership and was inducted into class 10. Like Shakoor, she has a passion for social justice and thought that the program would be good for her.

“At first I went into it like I really really did not want to join because I thought my mom was just making me do something that I did not want to do,” Newmark said. “I started filling out the application and I was like, ‘Okay, I have to get into this program.’ Figuring out how to become a better leader is something I feel really strongly about and when they were asking me those questions really just grabbed me and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m in.’”

Once in the program, the students participate in activities designed to help them grow as leaders in the community. They have to attend nine

programs and three weekend retreats, school swap day, sharing Passover and Easter and a three week transformational journey. It is a year of intense political and social justice training.

During the program, the members will experience team bonding exercises, films, music, guest speakers and museums. In addition, they engage in group talks about discrimination and social justice.

When Shakoor was actively participating in the program, he met and talked with different guest speakers. One in particular that stood out for Shakoor was Reverend Al Sharpton.

“My biggest moments with the program would be when I spoke before Reverend Al Sharpton and his congregation called National Action Network,” Shakoor said. “I also was interviewed by Fox 2 news for the special ‘St.Louis to Selma’ and one moment that hit home for me that the program allowed me to do was visit the Audubon Ballroom in New York.”

The participants also have time to bond with the other members of their class.

“I have gained a lot of really good friends who have the same objective and goal as me in their lives and they want to make a change in their life and they’re learning how to do it,” Newmark said. “I know if I need help getting something started in the future I can always turn to them because they will always be there and always have the same drive as me.”

The friendships that come from the experience are only part of the reward for students. The members come out of the program with a deeper understanding of different cultures.

“It opened my eyes in a numerous amount of ways,” Shakoor said. “This program makes you incredibly socially aware and it throws a lot of knowledge at you. So when it’s all over you continue to strive for information and stay politically aware and involved.”

After the year of training in the year-long program, the students graduate and continue to grow as leaders. They emerge from the program as more curious, confident and better educated than before. In Shakoor’s experience even though students may have graduate, they continue to feel a part of the group.

“Once you are a member… You are a member for life,” Shakoor said. Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.54.19 AMScreen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.55.35 AM