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Diversity at Work Through Education and Music

by Peter Reese Diversity! If there is one word that describes Riverwest, diversity would be it. All a person has to do is spend an observant afternoon in the neighborhood to notice the differences in musical tastes, speech, socio-economic background, race, religion, philosophies, etc. This diversity is what draws many, if not most, of our neighbors to live and stay here. A person is free to exist as the person they wish to be. Readers of this newspaper are well aware that a diverse society is a strong society — indeed, this is the premise behind the United States of America. The difficulty, as the founders of our nation saw it and as our readers see it, is to create a framework with which to embrace different perspectives for the common good. The commitment to this ideal is evident in Riverwest, not only in theory, but reality. The expansion of Riverwest Currents in circulation and size gives us one way to have a much greater voice toward that ideal. While we enjoy and boast about the diversity in our neighborhood, we still have harmful divisions among groups that often appear permanent. One of the greatest divides is that of race. While we live next to and may know our neighbors of different complexion, a “polite silence” usually exists when it comes to frank discussion of racial issues. Holton Street, while no more formidable of a street than Center or Locust — just a line on an assessor’s map — might as well be the Berlin wall. There are two areas that readily lend themselves to building bridges across this divide: music and education. Both are great equalizers and most people are very passionate about both, whether they know it or not. No one wants you to take their music away and no one wants their baby to get a second rate education. February is Black History Month. It is no secret that both music and education have played pivotal roles in the history of Americans of African descent and in the history of all Americans. Music from the cotton fields, from prisons, from Harlem nightclubs has shaped all popular culture as we know it. Inner city parents’ struggle for quality schools for people of every socio-economic background is re-shaping our view of public education through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Without the contributions of African Americans, America would be a far, far weaker country. Has there been another minority group that has been more active in forcing America to look at its ideals? Is liberty and justice truly for all people? Is everyone created equal in the eyes of God? What are the consequences of capitalism without a conscience? This year is 2002. Last month, as we celebrated MLK Day, the nation had to once again grapple with the question, “What is so important about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy?” Some schools and businesses had the day off, others didn’t. Of course it is up to school boards and business owners to determine what the days of operation should be. However, the very fact that there is still controversy over the importance of Dr. King’s message and the importance of the civil rights movement says that we as a nation still have some growing to do. As residents of Riverwest seeking the strengths of diversity, we need to embrace different perspectives on American history. Not just a few paragraphs in a grade school text book about the “Triangle Trade.” Not just one day or one month out of the year. Only by learning where we have come from will we begin to know where we are going. Peter Reese has been active in the fields of religion, music, and education for all of his 27 years. He is currently Principal / Minister of Education at St. Philip’s / Beautiful Savior Lutheran School (WELS) and plays bass in the St. Philip’s Gospel Choir and the local rock band Good Mustard. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 1 – February 2002
by Peter Reese