Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

School project shines light on racism, injustice

Pallotti students learn about genocide, air ‘Dirty Laundry’

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Students at St. Vincent Pallotti High School last week aired their dirty laundry.

They did it for a school-wide art project named ‘‘Dirty Laundry” for the clothesline on which they hung index cards bearing stories of injustices they witnessed or heard about.

It was among the most popular—and emotional—of the Laurel school’s Pallotti Week activities held from Jan. 22 to Jan. 25. The week commemorates the charity and good works done by the school’s namesake, 19th century Italian priest St. Vincent Pallotti, famed for his advocacy on behalf of the impoverished.

Art teacher Sharon Sefton got the idea for ‘‘Dirty Laundry” from the online ‘‘PostSecret” project, in which people write anonymous secrets on postcards and send them in for publication.

Each of the cards in ‘‘Dirty Laundry” tells a personal story. One student wrote that while in a pet store with several white friends, the store’s alarm went off and the student, an African-American, was the only one to get checked for stolen items. Another student pasted photos of anti-gay slogans onto a card, remarking on the other side about the hurtful nature of those words.

‘‘I was trying to think of something that would let us tie in these little dirty things in our lives,” Sefton said.

On Jan. 23, the seniors listened to a speaker from Genocide Intervention Network, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit, talk about the killings in Darfur where nomadic militiamen have killed several hundred thousand and displaced several million in the western region of Sudan.

On Jan. 24, the seniors visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

‘‘There’s all this hatred around,” said senior Nick Drummond, 17. ‘‘When we went to the Holocaust museum, that was the epitome of hatred. It just blew me away.”

Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin, 79, spoke to the junior and senior classes on Jan. 25 about her time in the Stutthof death camp in what is now part of Poland.

‘‘We say ‘Never again,’ but it happens again and again,” Godin told the students. ‘‘Every week I look in the newspaper and I see things...against Jews, against people of color...why does it happen? Because we allow it.”

Godin, who was born in the Lithuanian city of Siauliai and weighed just 69 pounds when the Soviet army liberated her camp in 1945, showed the students a picture of Sudanese children orphaned by the killings in Darfur.

‘‘You beautiful young people, that’s your job—to stop it,” Godin said. ‘‘The children of Darfur, they are homeless, hungry...They need people like you.”

Students learned about the difference a book can make through the Lubuto Library Project, which is donating student-given funds and books to help build libraries for orphans in Zambia.

And they learned about homelessness Jan. 23 when they saw ‘‘A Taste of Home,” a student-acted play about kids who volunteer at a homeless shelter.

Catherine Gallerizzo, 15, said the play debunked the myth that homeless people don’t want to work. ‘‘[They] don’t have a phone or a mailing address,” she said. ‘‘[It’s] hard...for them to get a job.”

E-mail Anath Hartmann at