Queen Rania Meets Taft High Students to Support Integration Programs That Promote Tolerance and Acceptance

October 24, 2007

(Office of Her Majesty – Press Department – Los Angeles) - Five years ago, William Howard Taft High School in Los Angeles, California, piloted an innovative and bold program to eradicate prejudice and intolerance amongst its students. Since its inception, the Zerohour campaign has fought successfully to fight those problems and promote multicultural inclusion.

Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah visited Taft High to support the integration programs, promote her message of tolerance and acceptance, and engage the students in a dialogue, where she encouraged them to continue broadening their horizons. 

The Zerohour program uses a three-pronged approach to tackling issues of intolerance. The SPIRIT class conducts anti-bias workshops and field trips to the Museum of Tolerance; the HEART program employs conflict resolution skills; and the Peer Mediation program trains students to mediate interpersonal conflicts between other students. 

Students described the effects of intolerance and stereotypes. “When people are so quick to judge me simply due to my race and ethnicity, I wish they could understand all of the hard times and hurt I have had to endure in my life,” said Rocky Shinya, an Asian American student who said a lot of assumptions are made because of his ethnicity. “We truly believe in your message,” he said to the Queen, “Harmony amongst religious, ethnic and social groups is of the essence and must be in the forefront of all countries and leaders if our world is to prosper into the next generation.”  

Standing side-by-side were “once rivals, now friends” Sergio Astorga and Abran Hernandez, co-presidents of HEART, who personified the effects of acceptance. Growing up in different communities, divided by racial tension, Sergio said, “We grew to hate each other simply due to our area codes. We matured through the help of HEART to see how stupid and empty this hatred was.” 

After hearing about the effects of the program, the Queen engaged the students in a dynamic question-and-answer session, where she described Jordan as having “an amalgam of backgrounds focused on one vision: a vision of tolerance, moderation, acceptance, and dialogue.” 

Supporting the values proliferated by the Zerohour campaign, and lauding the school’s and students’ accomplishments in “calling time on intolerance,” the Queen said that suspicion and mistrust are the enemies of multiculturalism, while respect and acceptance are the keys to integration. 

Queen Rania, who has been focusing much of her programs on the need to bridge the divide between East and West, stressed the importance of cross-cultural dialogue. “Even though we have open communication channels, we know about each other less, and that is something I always find baffling,” she said. 

“We have to make that extra effort to step out of our comfort zone, to challenge some of the assumptions we make … You’ll realize how much you can learn from people different from yourselves,” she added. 

Showing a keen sense of interest in Jordanian and Middle Eastern affairs, the students seemed eager to get the most out of a dialogue session with the visiting Queen, as they asked for advice on “mending hatred” and bringing together conflicting groups. The Queen highlighted the impact of dialogue and promoted the need for a change of mindsets. 

“I encourage you to challenge your own assumptions about my part of the world and learn about the real Middle East: its people, its diversity, its history, its rich culture and tradition,” said Queen Rania, as she encouraged students to use online social media networks to expand their knowledge of the Middle East. 

“Next time you log onto MySpace or Facebook, take the time to learn something new about a person from the Middle East,” she said. 

Taft has come a long way in battling intolerance, but students still wanted some advice on how to break down lines of segregation. One route to tackling that issue, according to Queen Rania, is to recognize that we have more in common than we have different, and to appreciate the beauty and wealth of diversity. “To pull down these walls, or erase the lines of segregation, we must internalize and live these basic truths to start humanizing ‘the other’,” she said. 

When asked about her future projects, the Queen briefed the students on her commitment to education, talking about the school adoption programs she worked on during Ramadan. Her Majesty also said it would be great to implement programs like this one in Jordan.  

The Zerohour campaign, now a pilot program in some Los Angeles County schools, is designed by the LA County Commission on Human Rights to educate school administrators, teachers, and students on how to achieve safe, culturally-appropriate learning environments. Schools that demonstrate long-term commitment to developing human relations are eligible to become a part of the Commission’s county-wide network of Zerohour Schools.

The Zerohour program includes Hart High School, Taft High School, Gardena High School, Pomona High School, and Artesia High School. To become a Zerohour School, schools must make a commitment to implement a school-wide commitment to peace and respect for all groups, develop human relations leadership among students, strengthen parent/guardian communication, education and involvement, provide opportunities for human relations teacher trainings, and support and implement Zerohour-approved curricula and human relations classes and programs. 

William Howard Taft High School is a public school located in Los Angeles. With a distinguished academic program, over 80 percent of graduates enroll into notable the University of California (UC) system. Taft has seen repeated success in the United States Academic Decathlon, Winning Nationals in 1989, 1994, and 2006. Taft has also won the Los Angeles Regional Competition every year since 1994, with the exception of 1999 and 2007. 

Also, while in Los Angeles, Her Majesty joined journalist Arianna Huffington and a number of high profile Hollywood leaders to discuss the divide between East and West.

The Foreign Policy Roundtable is a Rockefeller Brothers Fund sponsored project, which fashions salons on global issues for leaders of the entertainment and media industries in Los Angeles. This is part of a broader effort by many in foreign affairs circles of the US to reach out to media and entertainment leaders about the importance of engagement in global affairs.