Monday, November 10, 2008

All points around the globe meet to Celebrate Diversity

From the Staten Island Advance:

Annual event at Wagner College highlights Egypt, Sierra Leone, China, Russia and Native America
Monday, November 10, 2008

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Women draped in the warm-toned fabrics and regal headdresses of Sierra Leone; blonde tutu-clad Russian dancers; Chinese puppeteers and Native American drummers were among more than 2,000 Staten Islanders from points across the globe who reveled in their roots yesterday at the Wagner College gym.

The seventh annual Celebrate Diversity day at the Grymes Hill college encouraged young and old to learn from each other, share with each other and enjoy each other, with traditional performances and foods, art projects for children, and plenty of time to mingle under the backdrop of posters with such inspirational messages as: "In acceptance there is peace!" and "Share our similarities, celebrate our differences!"

"This is our culminating event, but it's the journey we do to get here where the magic lies," said Mike Baver of the Mosaic Coalition, which organized the event along with the New York Center for Interpersonal Development and Wagner College.

Planned and discussed during the Mosaic Coalition's monthly pot-luck gatherings, the day each year has highlighted different communities in this immigrant-rich borough. This year brought the cultures of China, Egypt, Russia, Sierra Leone and Native America to center stage.

The energy in the room was especially powerful in light of last week's ascent of President-elect Barack Obama, who, by virtue of who he is and what he achieved, brought the topic of diversity forefront in the national, and international conversation.

"Certainly, diversity is at the tip of everybody's tongue. Not just because of the political atmosphere, it's the global atmosphere. It's important for us to celebrate," said Baver. "Nobody is going to come here and not interact with somebody from another country."

Children received passport booklets to take with them from country table to table, while storytellers and puppeteers made traditional tales come alive.

"It's nice to see all the cultures here," said Lana Berenson, of Oakwood, whose 8-year-old son busily twisted a pipe cleaner to make the legs of a crafts spider, representing of the Ananasi the Spider, a legend of Sierra Leone.

At a nearby table in the children's room, other youngsters fashioned boats out of paper, to represent the ships which transported slaves across the Atlantic.

"They have been curious about it and learned, and that is what we hoped," said Pamela Williams of the Sierra Lenonen Association.

On the stage in the gym, the culture of each region took shape: the elegant precision of Russian dancers, feather-bedecked Native American dancers who moved to a thunderous, rumbling drum and an Egyptian belly dancer in spangles and gold fabric, who moved her arms to evoke the wings of a butterfly, alongside other performances.

Community leaders Chuan Teng, Dr. Samy Rizk, Christine Moore and the Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe were honored this year for their contributions in educating others about their cultures.

Deborah Young is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at

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