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a leisurely stroll for diversity and unity

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Somehow I was coralled into being one of the team leaders for the annual Walk for CommUNITY. But it was fun and the turnout was impressive given the threatening clouds. It was quite a political event - all the candidates were represented, and some of the candidates were actually there. The walk was only a mile long, and it was inspiring to see how many different groups and how many young people participated. OK, so it wasn't on the scale of San Francisco PRIDE but it was still fun and I went a little overboard on the pizza afterwards.

Walkers cross river to reach out
Hundreds raise funds for 2 anti-prejudice youth efforts

Several hundred people braved the chilly November weather Sunday and took a stroll over the Arkansas River, participating in the Walk for CommUNITY, a fundraising event for National Conference for Community Justice youth programs.
Formerly known as Walk as One, the annual Walk for CommUNITY began seven years ago as a means to help fund Anytown and Unitown youth retreats, which teach students leadership skills and how to fight bigotry.
“If we can get kids thinking about these things … they can really make a difference for all of us,” said Ruth Shepherd, who is in her seventh year as executive director of the Arkansas branch of the NCCJ, which was formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Anytown, a week-long program for high school students of different races, religions and cultures, teaches leadership skills and the benefits of diversity.
Unitown is a two- or threeday retreat for students and teachers from one high school that prepares students to be leaders in the classroom by teaching how to make their schools more inclusive and accepting of diversity.
NCCJ held more than a dozen retreats for schools around the state last year.
“Race is still huge,” Shepherd said when asked about the main source of bias in Arkansas schools. “But with high school kids, gender is big, too. We try to address anything that could divide us.”
State Rep. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock and chairman for the walk this year, said that aside from fundraising, the event gives people an outlet to show they can work together.
“I’ve always talked to my students about civic responsibility,” said Elliott, a former teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock. Anytown and Unitown “force us to live outside the worlds we may have been confined to.”
The cost to participate in the walk Sunday ranged from $10 for students to $50 for whole families. Shepherd said organizers hoped the walk would raise about $40,000.
The proceeds will also help fund a new retreat called Minitown.
Minitown, an anti-bullying program for middle school students, will include leadership and self-esteem-building workshops that will allow students to explore the causes and effects of bullying and learn how to create a safe, inclusive school environment, organizers said.

This story was published Monday, November 06, 2006
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