Eight Smith-Cotton seniors are united in a program called Gateway2Change aimed at fighting racism.
“When you’re taught not to talk about racism, this program can be overwhelming at first,” said Brittany Borke, one of the students selected to represent S-C. “This is a problem that needs fixing and if you want it fixed, you’ve got to do it yourself. If just one person joins, it can change everything.”
Another S-C student, Brady Herrington, said, “Living in a small town like Sedalia, you don’t encounter racism quite as often as if you lived in St. Louis.”
So the eight seniors – Borke, Herrington, Courtney Cooper, Caleb Reed, Devin Hill, Lilibeth Lozada, Margarita Antonova and Luis Estrada – were taken to St. Louis on Sept. 30. They went to a conference center packed with people fighting for the same belief. There were about 300 students from 36 different schools; Smith-Cotton is the only school in the program that is not from the St. Louis area.
“I really like how honest it is,” Borke said. They talked about the aftermath of Ferguson and what has been happening since then.
Sedalia School District 200 Assistant Superintendent Dr. Nancy Scott, who is in charge of human resources and federal programs, came across Gateway2Change during a superintendents’ meeting. The students who were running the program presented it to 500 superintendents and also did a question-and-answer session. Scott was impressed by the students’ leadership and got hooked on the program. She contacted the person in charge and asked if Smith-Cotton could take part. Everything fell into place after that. Then Smith-Cotton Principal Wade Norton had the hardest part: picking the eight seniors.
This is the second year the program is running; the first year, only five schools took part. This year, 36 schools are taking part and the number is still increasing.
“This number shows that this is something that is needed. This program lets the schools give back to the community,” Scott said.
The big vision over time is to team up with Warrensburg to start a program in central Missouri. “I wouldn’t mind if things were closer,” Scott said.
Another plan is to have a mix of juniors and seniors so there will always be someone who knows what’s going on. Scott also hopes that Gateway2Change will help more students realize the leadership they have and bring more leadership to the community.
The next event will be Oct. 27, where the topic will be how to make race relations better.
The S-C seniors are also in activities besides Gateway2Change. Borke is in New Score Singers, varsity volleyball and National Honor Society.
“In a way they are all similar,” she said. “We all act like a family there and that’s the goal in Gateway2Change.”
Hill said his favorite part of the program was going up on stage and speaking to the students and telling them not follow other people’s footsteps.
“Don’t be scared to say what you gotta say and to act on what you believe in,” he said, adding that the program helped him see different points of view of ethnicity and cultures and how people feel about them. Herrington said getting out of their comfort zones helped the eight seniors see different perspectives.
“I am much more aware of how big of a problem racism is now,” Herrington said. “I think this program will make me more engaged and open-minded in social issues.”
Rookie Reporter Valentyna Usyk is a student at Smith-Cotton High School.