January 15, 2009 | 16 views
Making all the difference in the world
The quote comes from Mahatma Gandhi, the 20th century's peace icon who spread a message of nonviolent resistance to oppressive rule and tolerance to people around the world. Gandhi's philosophy fueled the 1947 overthrow of British rule in India, which became the largest democracy in the world. For members of the World of Difference Club, his maxim is their guiding principle.
With the U.S. ready to inaugurate its first African-American president, the Herald stopped by Mepham recently to chat with members of the World of Difference Club, whose mission is to teach respect for all peoples.
In honor of Black History Month in February, members are busy creating an enormous banner that will stretch across the front hall of the school, with photos and quotations from prominent African-Americans like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. President-elect Barack Obama's photo will be added for the first time this year. The banner is just one of the club's projects.
Its activities begin in the fall, with a trip to the New York Tolerance Center in Manhattan. They end in the spring, with a three-day trip to Bridgeport, Conn., to help build a home for Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit organization that builds houses for impoverished families.
Along the way, club members mark Matthew Shepard Day in October, in remembrance of the young man who was bludgeoned to death in Wyoming in 1998 because he was gay. They take part in Random Acts of Kindness Week in December, and celebrate Black History Month and Women's History Month in March.
"By whatever means we can, we try to spread tolerance and acceptance of other peoples," said Brandon Kronstat, 17, a club board member.
David Meyers, 17, who joined the club last year, said that spreading a message of tolerance is a continuing effort. "You can't control what someone thinks, but you can try to influence them to be more positive," he said.
To attract more members, the club hosts a number of fun events, like an international feast in the spring with a diversity of dishes, from Italian to Indian. David D'Alto, 16, a board member and a junior, said, "We're not pressuring [students] to join. We make it known that there are differences in the world."
Kronstat called Obama's election to the White House "profound," saying, "He's inadvertently affecting the world." That is, Obama, simply by winning the presidency, is helping to build tolerance in a society that had not, in the past, seriously considered a black man to lead it or to serve in any number of other high-level positions in the government or the private sector.
Mepham's principal, Mike Harrington, called World of Difference one of the most important clubs at the school. "It empowers students to be the leaders in the school," he said.