John Muir Middle School principal Greg Miller said he wants to make it clear that the school’s first “Muir United” event on Thursday was not a one-off deal, but rather the first step toward educating students about acceptance and tolerance.
“Today is a change of mindset, that the kids moving forward will be more accepting and understanding of each other,” Miller said.
The school halted all classes on Thursday and instead had a daylong event where each class attended different workshops and assemblies hosted by more than a dozen guest speakers from various social backgrounds.
There were representatives of the LGBTQ community, Holocaust survivors, a Rwanda genocide survivor, a Muslim American activist, teachers who grew up undocumented, representatives from the Special Olympics and executive producer of the television show “Fresh off the Boat.”
To top it all off, four-time Emmy-winning actor Jim Parsons from “The Big Bang Theory” gave a keynote speech in front of nearly 1,500 students and faculty at John Muir.
“It’s a very deep topic in many ways,” Parsons, who is gay, said before his speech. “It is one of the pillars and essences of what it is to be a human being and a participant in the world, to meet people who are different from you and to learn things from people who are, in greater or lesser degrees, different from you.”
Parsons added that it is important to start talking to students, specifically those who are in middle school, about what it means to be different and help them understand they should be accepting of one another.
“It’s the first time in life for a lot of people that you’re branching out of the bubble of just your parents’ view of things and start seeing things on your own terms,” Parsons said.
Miller concurred with Parsons, adding that by the time students get to high school, they have already established who they are and what cliques they belong to.
“This is the time to teach kids that we accept everybody for who they are,” Miller said. “We don’t care about the accent in their voice or the shoes that they wear. We take people for who they are as other humans.”
Jonathan Weedman, executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and chorus members were at the school to support the organization’s Alive Music Project, in which members of the chorus talk to students about anti-bullying and acceptance by telling their personal stories.
Weedman said he was impressed with Miller’s ability to bring together so many people from different backgrounds to teach equality and acceptance from various angles, especially during a time when there is a lot of tension toward different groups — such as members of the LGBTQ community, women, Muslims and immigrants.
“We’re not a political organization, but we want to change that narrative student by student,” Weedman said.
Soraya Deen, founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, said she tries to break the negative stereotypes of Muslim Americans whenever she can. She added that it is important to help students understand they should not make hasty assumptions about another person.
“We don’t have to love each other, but we can be more than tolerant of each other, accept each other, acknowledge each other,” Deen said.