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Tackling stereotypes.

Byline: Josephine Woolington The Register-Guard

Joey Hoffman angrily knocked two soda pop bottles off a table and plopped down on a couch, taking deep breaths.

"What's your problem?" 17-year-old Ashley Cleary asked him.

"I'm sick and tired of being harassed," 14-year-old Joey replied.

"Harassed about what?" she asked.

"People constantly treat me like a criminal just because I have brown skin and baggy clothes," he said.

"Stop wearing baggy clothes," Ashley said.

"Why should I have to change what I like to wear just to be 'acceptable?'" he asked. "Plus, it's not like I can change my skin."

The two high schoolers were acting out a skit Wednesday that they wrote with about a dozen other black students at Lane Community College's African-American Rites of Passage Academy.

The 15-minute play is one of many projects that the middle and high school students put together during the three-week academy to illustrate their experiences with race. The skit will be filmed and shown at a Passage Academy public performance tonight at LCC.

The academy's goal is to teach students to challenge African-American stereotypes and help them learn about their heritage, said Greg Evans, the academy's founder and director. The academy features classes in African-American history, literature and leadership skills for 14 students from the Eugene, Springfield and Bethel school districts. The program, which is in its 17th year, also offers a morning tai chi class and separate empowerment classes for boys and girls, Evans said.

LCC has similar academies for Asian, Latino and Native American students, Evans said. Each student pays $50 to attend the academy.

"We're trying to help kids figure out who they are," said Evans, who serves as LCC's African-American student program coordinator and as a Eugene city councilor. "Being black isn't about poverty, drugs and gangs. For many of these kids, they're the only black kid in the classroom. A lot of kids are confused about who they are."

Ashley and Joey said the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the recent acquittal of Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman, inspired the skit's storyline. The students wrote a scene where an African-American boy is stopped and questioned by a white police officer because of the boy's skin color and his hooded sweatshirt.

"(The skit) gives you the idea that Trayvon's story could happen to everybody," said Joey, who will be a freshman at South Eugene High School this fall. He said he has attended the academy since sixth grade and has learned how to better deal with racism because of the program.

"I've lashed out before," he said, recalling incidents when someone suspected he was going to steal something in a store. "Now, I've learned to just laugh it off and walk away. You can't change someone's opinions."

Joey said he especially enjoys learning about African-American history.

"I never learned that in school," he said of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American who was fatally beaten in 1955 by two white men after whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The men were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Students also learned about Garrett Morgan, an African-American who invented the traffic signal, and Langston Hughes, an African- American poet.

"We want to teach the students that African- Americans have been influential in more than just sports and entertainment," Evans said. "(Schools) don't teach that."

The academy also gets students on a college campus and encourages them to start thinking about college, Evans said. The students earn two college credits after completing the program and are given an LCC student ID number, he said. They also attend two workshops at the University of Oregon about substance abuse and gender issues.

About two-thirds of the students who attend the academy go on to college, Evans said. The majority go to LCC for the first two years.

D'Angelo Lee, who will be a freshman at Churchill High School this fall, said he enjoyed his first year at the academy. The 14-year-old helped film the skit and said he made several friends.

"It finally gives me a chance to be around people who can relate to me," said D'Angelo, adding that he hopes to return to the academy next summer.


Public performance

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: Longhouse Building 31 on LCC main campus, 4000 E. 30th Ave.
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Title Annotation:Minorities
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 25, 2013
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