Checking in With: Multicultural Tigers United

It’s Testing Phase, and we’ve been making the rounds to participate in our Youth Challenge cohort’s events throughout Chattanooga. We’ve talked about these solutions for 6 weeks. Now we get the chance to see them in action.

You might remember Howard High School’s Jon Johnson from this video during Week 4 of Incubation. Using his crafted prototype, he outlined Multicultural Tigers United’s approach to diversity:

  1. We are ALL alike

2. We are SOME alike

3. We are NONE alike

For Howard’s changing demographic, this is an important message. In the last three years, its Hispanic population has grown from 6% to 37%, causing misunderstanding and divisiveness between African American and Hispanic students. In response, Multicultural Tigers United organizes events for Howard students of various cultures to spend time together eating food and playing games.

On a hot and sticky Friday afternoon, large groups of students converged on the soccer fields at Howard High. The group of high-schoolers ate lunch together in the grass as DJ Flux 308 played a mix of American and Latino pop songs.

Jon Johnson speaking (left); Ron Harris (right)

Afterwards, the students listened to Ron Harris, Director of Workplace Diversity at Blue Cross Blue Shield and a Howard alumnus, who underscored the group’s similarities and differences. “Who has grown up poor?” Hands went up. “Anybody from a single parent home? Anybody grow up going to church?” He paused and smiled. “Anybody know that when you turn the lights on the roaches scatter?” The group laughed knowingly.

“Is there anybody out here who doesn’t want to be loved, to be trusted, respected? Any non-humans out here?” He continued, “Everybody here wants the same thing. So in your uniqueness — cause there’s nobody like you — you’re also a human being. All human beings want to be treated the same way.”

Harris emphasized that success goes hand in hand with learning from others and framed Howard’s diverse population as representative of the real world. Working at a company of 6,000 people from all over the globe, Harris explained that “every single day I work with somebody who doesn’t look like me. And that’s a good thing.”

Encouraging them to seek new perspectives on other people, he concluded, “Don’t ever get together at something like [this event] and not learn something from one another. Learn to look at people in more than one way.”

Students eat lunch (left); A sign reads “Diversity to me is ____________”

For more on Jon and his work with Howard, here’s an article from the Times Free Press on his leadership in re-establishing a Howard baseball team.