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Race relations speaker shares experiences during day at Faust

May 21, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - When racial tensions between some students at J. Frank Faust Junior High School began escalating recently, administrators brought in Pennsylvania State Police troopers to talk about tolerance.

Wednesday they brought in Quay Hanna.

"We've had troopers here, but I'm sure kids would go to him before a cop," ninth-grader Chassity Wolfgang said of Hanna, who has spoken to students and parents about racial issues in schools across Pennsylvania.

"He's been there, so we know where he's coming from," she said.

A native of Lancaster, Pa., Hanna spoke to students at morning assemblies and mingled with them through the day, as did a number of community leaders concerned about unrest at the school. He spoke to about 50 parents in the evening.

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As a younger man Hanna said he was "obsessed by race" and tried to shift the blame for his problems onto minority groups.

"Redneck is a label people give you," Hanna said, though he admitted retaining some of the outward stereotypes, including a pickup truck and love of country music.

"The world often tells our young people, 'Make them earn your respect,'" Hanna told the parents. What he said he learned on a nine-week bus trip across America a decade ago was "giving respect first is where you gain power."

About three weeks ago at Faust, there were two one-on-one fights between black and white students in the cafeteria on the same day. Those incidents led to rumors that an after-school fight between whites and blacks would take place several days later.

School officials got wind of the reports and had police at the school. Then on Sunday, May 11, an Internet chat room rumor circulated that a student was bringing a gun to school.

Police were at the school again that Monday and no weapons were found, but about 200 students either did not show up or were removed from class by their parents. Assistant Superintendent Ted Rabold said the incident made the administration realize "we needed to do more."

That includes paying Chambersburg to have a police officer at the school until the summer break. The borough is seeking a federal grant to continue the program into 2003-04.

Hanna's job is to change attitudes. He's made weekly trips to one school district for six years and monthly visits to the Greencastle-Antrim School District since some racial incidents there last year.

"I don't tell them they are wrong, stupid or ignorant," Hanna said of his meetings with sometimes openly racist students. "They bring their arguments to the table and I bring mine."

Problems between individual students often have nothing to do with race, but are couched in racial terms, Hanna said. When racial slurs are used, matters only get worse, he said.

Wolfgang said tensions have been building all year, starting with problems between a few black and white students. "But people get other people on their side," she said.

She said the school should have cracked down earlier with more discipline.

Clifton and Theda Davis said racial slurs have been used against their son at Faust. Part of the problem, she said, is children at the school are just reaching the point in life where they have to make choices of their own.

"I want more of what you're doing," Theda Davis told Hanna.

"It isn't a meltdown. It isn't chaos," Hanna said of his estimation of matters at Faust. He later noted, however, it does not take many incidents "to make it look like the Ku Klux Klan is in your school."

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