A day of diversity

MLK Jr. Day offers kids lessons on variety of cultures.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:12 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Children too young to read leaf through colorful images of different kinds of food — accepting without question unusual combinations such as fajitas on waffles. Other pictures showed chocolate houses that reflected the culture and architecture of different parts of the world.

The message was elementary: Diversity enriches and has no boundaries.

Even though there was no school on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there was plenty for children to learn Monday during a diversity celebration at First Christian Church.

Kenza Park and Maria Corbin of the Centro Latino welcomed young visitors with paints and paper plates to build colorful maracas, which are Hispanic instruments.

“We thought of combining aspects of our culture with activities that can be enjoyable and entertaining for little kids,” Corbin said. “We also brought colorful bilingual books and cards to teach the kids how to pronounce and write the names of simple objects or sentences in Spanish while reading simple stories.”

Children also learned how to write their names in Chinese calligraphy with colorful inks. Other volunteers patiently explained how to use chopsticks — a skill that fascinated the grown-ups as well.

Deborah Thompson, director of Boone County Historical Society, encouraged children to fill in the branches of their family tree. She asked for simple information, such as grandparents’ names or hair and eye color, to help the children connect to past generations — a heritage that Thompson senses is often forgotten. The purpose of the activity, she explained, was “to underline how we are the same and different, and to think about family as a continuing line.”

“Embracing Diversity,” a first for Columbia’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, combined education and entertainment to highlight the idea of learning from different cultures and, like a jigsaw puzzle, bring them together to create a richer picture.

The event was sponsored by Jumpstart, a volunteer organization that works with children in low-income areas on literacy, language and social development skills to help them succeed in school.

MU graduate student Shiloh Jordan, a Jumpstart volunteer coordinator, said the goal of the event was to “benefit the whole community by showing that different cultures have in common more than we think and that each brings with it plenty of enriching aspects one might not have seen before.

“We try to show this not in abstract, but with simple interacting activities meant to attract and teach children,” she said. “This occasion is also beneficial to the entire family since it allows kids and parents to spend some quality time together while getting involved in multicultural activities they might have never been exposed to before.”

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