At a time when our country and the world can seem so divided, leave it to a high school immigrant to lead the way with an initiative that is positive and inclusive, aimed at building relationships and treating everyone as equals. And where is he doing this of all places? How about the lunchroom.
I originally caught this story on SiriusXMs POTUS (People of the United States), a political talk radio station that puts itself firmly in the middle between CNN and Fox News. They profiled a senior at Boca Raton Community High School, Denis Estimon, who emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti in the first grade. In the piece, he recounted how he struggled to make friends saddled with not only a cultural but a also a true language barrier. As such, he felt alone and isolated.
In high school, Estimon says, he noticed many kids eating alone, from special needs to others that for whatever reason, did not fit in or were not associated with by the ‘popular crowd.’ With the help of an English teacher, Estimon founded “We Dine Together” an informal club of sorts that enlists ambassadors to sit with everyone and anyone at lunch and “build relationships over the table.” Starting with 15 other students, this group has now grown to 80 – all to ensure everyone feels included and important. Their mantra: No one should eat alone.
I can still remember my 9th grade year, coming from another school district in Champaign, Illinois and knowing no one. That feeling of isolation was most exacerbated in the lunchroom with equal parts embarrassment and shame in finding a spot to sit and peers willing to accept you. Estimon is hopeful his program will catch on with other schools around the country.
Acceptance. We all want it. We all need it. Kudos to a young man and his fellow students for their dedication to making everyone around them feel important, respected and validated. It’s an approach we all should strive for and learn from.