Milton Hershey School Students Use their Voices to End Racism
On Aug. 27, Milton Hershey School hosted VOiCE UP Berks and eight of their student ambassadors for a youth-centered forum with 20 MHS students. The program—supported by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and titled Standing Together Against Racism (S.T.A.R.)—is part of an ongoing VOiCE UP initiative to give students a platform to end racism in their communities.
After watching an hour-long documentary film about racism in America, students joined in youth-led discussions led by VOiCE UP student ambassadors. Many of the conversations centered around the power that youth in America have today in creating not just change, but meaningful transformation in attitudes and action.
VOiCE UP Berks is a nonprofit organization based in Berks County, Pennsylvania, that connects people to learning and service opportunities in their own communities. The group works with students to be service-minded and to use their skills to benefit the people around them. For VOiCE UP Berks, empowering young people to find their voice, make an impact, and change the world, is more than just a mission, it’s a mindset.
“This event is significant because it allowed our students an opportunity to engage with fellow young leaders who are passionate about mental health, service to others, and social justice,” shared Fonati Abrokwa ’01, MHS Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion. “It allowed our students the ability to engage in powerful dialogue on how to take action towards creating a more inclusive world. Our students left inspired and committed to small actions that are sustainable but can bring about lasting change.”
Through a partnership with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, the S.T.A.R. forum and presentation from VOiCE UP Berks were made possible. A representative from the Foundation spoke to students about the importance of well-being, diversity, equity, and inclusion—along with the significance of feeling safe in sharing their unique experiences. The Born This Way Foundation aims to provide high-impact programming and youth-led conversations to make kindness cool, validate the emotions of young people, and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health.
“My overall reaction to the S.T.A.R. initiative was pride. I was proud of the film itself, but also proud of the amount of diversity in the group,” said Bernice Kapel, an MHS senior. “Throughout the film I got to see from many different perspectives and hearing everyone’s voice on an important topic allowed us to come together and voice how we feel.”
The S.T.A.R. forum taught MHS students the value of using their voice and collaborating with others—skills that the school’s social and emotional curriculum emphasizes for student success. For many students, being given the opportunity to share their own experiences and take a leadership role in activating their communities towards a greater good helps them to develop very important skills.
Added 11th-grader Ember Simmons: “It was great to connect with other students from different areas that are very passionate about what they do, and it will be very exciting to work with them in the future. Moving forward it will be great to see the initiatives that can be accomplished with the combined powers of S.T.A.R. and MHS.”