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PROJECT CROSSROADS Young Answers to Old Questions

By Ruth Pennebaker |

THEY’RE TOO YOUNG TO vote. Too young to hold political office or wield influence. Why should we care about Dallas high school students’ opinions on racial strife and the solutions they offer?

We shouldn’t. Unless we care about how our society has molded our young and their racial views. Unless we care about hearing new solutions to tangled problems. And unless we care to hear from a generation that will one day lead this city, state and nation.

KERA’s final Project Crossroads production, The Youth Summit, gives Dallas high school students the opportunity to make their racial views and solutions known in an innovative, one-hour special. More than a program about the young. The Youth Summit, in many ways, belongs to an articulate group of high school students.

“We’re trying to have a show that adults won’t run,” says producer Rob Tranchin. “We’re asking the students to take control of the program. We hope we’re surprised by what they do and say.”

The Youth Summit, which is made possible by Channel 13 members and the Peter W. Baldwin Program Fund, opens on Dallas playgrounds. Here, KERA 90.1’s Maria Crockett interviews children ages seven to nine about their ideas on their own and others’ races. The program then moves to the KERA studio, where Channel 13’s Bob Ray Sanders talks to an audience of high school students about how their racial values are different from those of the children just interviewed.

After this brief opening and discussion, the heart of The Youth Summit lies in a series of scenes depicted by members of the Dallas Arts Magnet Improv Troupe. Based on the troupe’s extensive talks with a representative range of other Dallas high school students, these scenes have been written to portray racially charged situations.

Performed by the Improv Troupe before an audience of fellow high school students, the scenes will involve response from the audience. Interacting with the performers, students in the audience will discuss possible solu-tions to the racial problems that have been presented. The audience and performers alike will talk about what they would do if they had the power to improve race relations in Dallas.

“This won’t be just talking about instances of racism,” Tranchin says. “We’ll use these problems as a springboard for the kids to say what they would do if they had the power to change the world.

“I think a lot of adults tend to underestimate the young, they tend to think about them in a protective manner. But, by their teenage years, these students have done a lot of living. They’ve grappled with big emotions and they’ve suffered big disappointments.

“They’ve lived enough and they’ve thought enough to be able to tell us a lot about themselves – and a lot about the society that has shaped them.”

The Dialogue Continues

THE WEEKEND AFTER the premiere of The Youth Summit, the Greater Dallas Community of Churches (GDCC) sponsors its second annual congregation exchange. Scheduled for Friday-Sunday, May 18-20, the exchange will be similar to April 1989’s city wide event, which was jointly sponsored by KERA and the GDCC to address issues of racism and racial divisions.

“We’re seeking funding to make this exchange a long-term project,” says John Stoesz, GDCC program associate. “We’ve found it takes a long time for two congregations to know each other. Two groups of complete strangers don’t just get to know each other and address the divisions that separate them in a two-or three-hour Sunday exchange.”

The GDCC anticipates that more than 100 Dallas-area churches, synagogues and mosques will participate in the exchange. Each congregation will be paired with another “partner” congregation of a different racial, class and economic makeup. Fifteen to 20 delegates will attend services at their partner congregation, than will share lunch and a discussion with some of their hosts. At the discussions, the GDCC hopes the participating congregations will plan future activities together.

“We also want part of the dialogue to be inter-generational,” Stoesz says. “We’re hoping to have at least 1.000 youths involved in the exchange.”

As an impetus to discussion, he said, the groups will have access to videos of KERA’s The Youth Summit. Most of all, Stoesz says, the GDCC hopes that the success of last year’s exchange will inspire more congregations to join the 1990 exchange-and to build lasting friendships with their partner congregation.

“We want them to get to know one another,” he says, “to begin to plan activities together throughout the year.”