Allen students bring a lot to Iola

ACC student

I was born and raised in Topeka by my single mother, a descendant of Irish immigrants; my father is African-American and Native American. I often joke that at birth I won the “Minority Bingo.” My prize was a unique culture, but growing up, I noticed a persistent lack of opportunity.

I didn’t feel seen, respected, or valued by those who represented me in the halls of power. I imagine that sentiment is something many of us share, regardless of whether you’re urban or rural, black or white.

As a kid, my understanding of rural communities was only based on hearsay and stereotype.

Just imagine what my friends in Topeka said when I announced I was coming to Allen Community College!

I shrugged off their teasing and prepared myself for a new chapter: one of challenging myself, knowing that learning and thriving in a place like Iola would test how empathetic a city kid like me could be.

I’ve sought to immerse myself in this community because Iola is my new home.

But when I arrived here last August, many of my new friends and I felt the disconnect between our campus and the surrounding Iola community.

Yet instead of being complacent and demonizing a community we did not understand, we donned the mindset that different cultures can connect and educate us in rich ways. After all, I’m here to learn, and that’s not just something that occurs in a classroom.

In that spirit, the student leaders at Allen — the Phi Theta Kappa Honors and Service Society, Student Senate and students from other groups--are working to engage Iolans.

We believe it is important to interact with and learn from the Iola community, especially those of us who come from different cultures.

Allen students may be transient, but that should not hinder our willingness to benefit our new home; we began as guests here, but we are intent on building a sense of inclusiveness and comfort between the Allen student community and Iolans.

This past year, our avenue for manifesting this effort was volunteerism. We believe our diversity can benefit the young students of Iola; after all, there is no better judge of character than a child.

We hope to benefit students through empathic discussions and interactions. Although our college is distanced by age and culture, we’ve been able to establish tangible connection with area children through our service.

Phi Theta Kappa had the honor of  donating 250 hours of volunteerism and fundraising $4,000 on behalf of and with Humanity House, Thrive Allen County, and Your Community Foundation.

What have I gained through the process? Most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about why in today’s world, diversity matters more than ever.

I believe the definition of “diversity” and its importance has been diluted. When many people think of diversity, they think of quotas, Affirmative Action, and minorities in the sports industry.

My fellow Allen students and I have worked hard to debunk that just because we’re different from most Iolans, we’re antagonists. As rural and urban communities in Kansas attempt to solve similar problems — poverty, affordable health care, quality education — it’s clear to me that there’s a mutual misunderstanding between these two communities, a misunderstanding perpetuated by a lack of experience and information.

 

IN MY WORK at Allen Community College and in Iola — with people a whole lot different than me — I’ve learned that our races do not define our lives or opinions, rather our cultural experiences do.

And when we immerse ourselves in other cultures, we bridge these chasms of misunderstanding, while also supporting a stronger community and economic growth. When we celebrate diversity, when we welcome the stranger, our communities become richer and stronger. Not weaker. That’s not the America I know, the one that celebrates “E Pluribus Unum.”

My fellow volunteers and I hope to inspire incoming Allen students to strengthen and expand the relationships built thus far. The willingness and support displayed by the Iola community and Allen Community College to support our efforts is to be commended.

Yet, we implore the powers that be, in both communities, to continue welcoming diversity, encouraging both communities to learn and grow together.

An education which is only practiced in a classroom is a negligent one: let’s continue to grant future generations the opportunity to practice empathy and humanitarianism.

Imani Lemon is a Topeka sophomore at Allen Community College and president of Allen’s Phi Theta Kappa Honors & Service Society. He writes a bi-monthly column focused on student life at Allen.

 

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