Gates Forum: '1 Nation, Diverse & Divided'

At this year's forum, a distinguished panel discussed what's causing so much tension in modern America.

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Once the old heads ended their conversation as divided as they started, Hunter-Gault introduced the future: Amaree Austin and Clayton Gentry. Austin is a rising sophomore at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Gentry is a 2013 cum laude graduate of the same storied institution. Austin is African American; Gentry is white. They both recently participated in the Memory Project, a collection of essays about their elders' experiences in the civil rights movement, most notably in the events surrounding the segregation of their high school in 1957 by the "Little Rock Nine." 

"I'll be honest," said Austin. She checked with Hunter-Gault: "Can I be honest?"

"Sure, everybody else is," said Hunter-Gault. 

"A lot of teens need to think about what happened back then. They have to understand what we don't want to go through again. We need to prevent that, because that was not OK at all," said Austin. "I tell my peers: This is about our future, but they think, 'Oh, these things happened way back then.' " 

Gentry said, "I used to think discrimination was about white folks being against black folks in the '60s. Now I know the word 'other' or 'outsider' can be used by anyone. I'm not going to say I'm as disadvantaged as a black 18-year-old male, but just because there are no Jim Crow laws doesn't mean that whites, blacks and Hispanics don't notice differences or have prejudices anymore. I know I still carry some of that, but I can better combat it when I'm aware of it."

Out of the mouths of babes.

Shelley Christiansen is a free lance writer, public radio essayist and real estate broker living in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.

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