African-American and African immigrant students work for mutual understanding


African-American students and recent African immigrants at the Lehman Educational Center declared their building an international peace site on May 3, in a ceremony marking their successful efforts at conflict resolution and reconciliation. The Lehman Center houses the Wellstone International High School and Uptown Academy, both of which are Minneapolis public schools.

“There are a lot of language barriers—because people don’t understand our language they think we’re making fun of them, but that’s not the case” says Mohamed Farah, a senior at Wellstone Academy.

Farah, originally from Somalia, is vice-president of the Wellstone Student Council at Wellstone International High School, a “newcomer school” designed to serve immigrant students still learning English. The school shares a cafeteria with Uptown Academy, a local alternative high school. After a confrontation last December sparked a heated lunchroom shouting match between the two groups, he decided a change needed to be made. With several other students and the help of school counselor Daniel Hertz, he met with Uptown Academy staff to begin a series of presentations on cultural understanding through the school’s social studies classes.

The presentations provided a forum for recent African immigrants to explain their culture and stressed the need for better communication between both groups. Led by Wellstone Academy students trained in peer mediation, they provided a space for interaction between students that hadn’t often come together before. The talks culminated in Thursday’s peace ceremony in the Lehman Center parking lot that included songs from some of the cultures of more than 20 countries represented by Wellstone Academy students. Students from both high schools read poems they composed about peace and declared their commitment to working together.

Patrick Hunter, a junior at Uptown Academy, says the workshops have eased tensions on campus somewhat, but sees the scope of the “peace site” designation as going further. He also takes issue with military recruiters being allowed in school career fairs.

“In my eyes, I don’t think they should be coming around schools,” he commented.

Dan Gordon recently returned from Guatemala where he volunteered with victims of that country’s 36-year civil war in their ongoing human rights cases against ex-military officials. He can be reached at