National Coalition Building Institute empowers students to instill tolerance.

Teach and Reach: Students internalize tolerance as they train others to see past stereotypes.

It’s the time of year when people dream big. Peace on earth. Joy to the world. 

But if the ideal of sharing the planet peacefully is ever to bear fruit, we’d have to embrace the belief that we are all connected – in more ways than perhaps we’d like to admit. 

Enter the National Coalition Building Institute. Twenty-five years ago the international nonprofit was formed with some high and mighty objectives: eliminating prejudice, teaching tolerance, building coalitions and preventing violence. 

Those prodigious efforts start with a simple understanding, according to Sue Parris, part-time chapter director for Monterey County NCBI. “It begins with the recognition that our limiting beliefs deserve to be challenged,” she says. 

The amount of money needed to catalyze the program, meanwhile, is anything but prodigious: NCBI in Monterey County has one part-time employee and an affiliate office at CSUMB, but manages expanding programs at Seaside, Marina, Carmel and Palma high schools. NCBI is able to maximize every dollar donated by deputizing students to steward much of the skill-building involved – which proves much more effective than bringing in expensive experts.

“Students know we’ve been there before, that we’ve walked down those roads,” says Fadi Aridi, a Seaside High NCBI alum. “We could give them something they could relate to more.” 

Students start with a “Welcoming Diversity” workshop. “There are people from different economic classes, races and sexual preferences, and the students learn to appreciate the differences, that religion, national origin, all of the identities that make us who we are, make us stronger,” Parris says.

Students have an opportunity to claim multiple social identities – age, race, religion, gender, etc. – with pride, to look at the stereotypes that lead society astray. They are given a chance to consider the powerful impact those preconceptions – which most don’t even realize they carry – can have. 

“[The training] taught me to look at people differently,” Aridi says. “It frees you from a biased mind, and teaches you to form your own opinion.”

Trained students then conduct their own workshops. A few dozen leaders can lead to a couple thousand trainees. 

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“Students realize they have the power to make important changes around them,” Parris says.

Administrations including Seaside High’s are in turn provided a welcome alternative to punitive action, which often incites and isolates groups further. At Seaside High, NCBI undercut swelling racial tensions between minority groups with workshops that culminated in a multicultural rally. 

“It turned aggression and misunderstanding into pride and acceptance,” Aridi says. “You don’t have to be buddy buddy, but you have to show respect.”

For Monterey County Gives!, NCBI is raising money to create a Social Justice Award program to celebrate leadership and bring additional awareness to the value found in our diversity.

“When there has been racist graffiti or tension or oppressive language,” Parris says, “students now stand up and and say ‘This isn’t right, we’re not going to stand for injustice.’”  

Mark C. Anderson contributed to this story.

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