There are few areas of the country which can match South Florida for diversity. The rich cultural stew in which we live can create roadblocks of misunderstanding between people, but it can also be an opportunity for building bridges.
A local teacher sees these issues every day, and is doing something to foster mutual appreciation between students of different backgrounds.
Molly Diallo teaches social studies at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in North Miami. She received one of eight grants nationwide from CharacterStrong.com to fund monthly meetings designed to break down barriers.
"They tend to group together by their ethnic background or their racial background or perhaps by a language that they share," Diallo said of her students. "So this is a way to bring students together."
Of course, the meetings involve food. We're talking about teenagers, after all. The grant pays for the sandwiches, chips, cookies and drinks they're eating in Diallo's classroom instead of the cafeteria.
Lunch is the vehicle to get everybody talking, about anything at all.
"Friends tell me I have a chaotic personality, whatever that means!" one senior says to laughter, as the kids seated around the table introduce themselves.
You see the same phenomenon in any high school, students of a feather tend to flock together. The Character Strong lunches are all about breaking those molds.
"I feel it's a great way to bring people together, students of different age, grade level, class level, ethnicity, race, it doesn't matter," said sophomore Ian Stewart.
ATM High School has students from 62 different countries.
"There's a lot of socio-economic differences because of systemic issues in our culture so I feel like seeing other people that you may not normally be in classes with is very valuable because those people are amazing, too," senior Vivian Cargille said.
Events like this luncheon obviously serve a purpose in bringing down the barriers we've been talking about, but there's also a practical application to the skills they're learning here. The kids are picking up the ability to relate to strangers.
"The ability to speak to people in a professional manner, make connections, networking is the basis for all great careers, and that's what we're trying to do here," senior Kalindi Gosine explained.
They were strangers when they walked in, and they were all exchanging contact info at the end.
Forging bonds, one lunch at a time.