Rocky River High School’s Students Advocating For Equality (SAFE) Club will receive the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio’s Student Diversity Champion Award. The award will be presented at the 63rd Annual Humanitarian Awards Dinner on Nov. 30 at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel.
SAFE was founded four years ago by students who wanted a place to discuss current events and be active in the community. Today the club has 40 members in grades 9 through 12 who meet weekly to discuss current events, plan activities and provide a safe place for students. Officers are Imani Washington, Emma Mathe and Haley Reash-Henz, who will be delivering a short speech at the dinner.
“Our group slogan is ‘Be Educated, Be Kind,’” said advisor Erin Pontikos. “As a club, we try to balance being active with social issues and also providing fun, social, safe experiences for our members.”
At weekly meetings students choose an educational topic to focus on and discuss, including diversity, body positivity, healthy relationships, understanding world religions, Black history, women’s history, LGBT history and mental health. Group activities include movie nights, book talks, painted T-shirts with political messages, an open mic night, dinners and coffee talks.
SAFE also began a partnership with the Rocky River Early Childhood Center at Beach School. In January, SAFE members will teach a diversity lesson to five preschool classrooms.
Over the last two years, SAFE worked with the Diversity Center to be mentors during RRHS’ freshmen diversity sessions. SAFE members are trained to assist at these sessions and help lead groups discussions and tasks.
“Our members love this experience and getting the opportunity to share their passion about diversity with freshmen,” Pontikos said. “Last March, our club was asked to present at the Diversity Center’s student conference at John Carroll University. Our SAFE leaders presented on ‘Inclusion: Bridging the Gap Between Wealth Levels.’”
The Diversity Center promotes understanding and respect and institutional equality on matters of race, age, religion, sex, ethnicity, culture, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. The annual awards dinner helps to underwrite school and youth programming throughout Northeast Ohio, including leadership programs and cultural competence workshops to build school environments that promote respect, acceptance and inclusion. Student participants learn to become leaders and positive change agents in their schools and communities.