Anne-Therese Ryan posed a scenario to the Lake Station Edison’s Freshman and Sophomore classes: Jada, a 17-year-old who uses a wheelchair, gets a job in a clothing store.
The young woman was doing everything she was asked, said Ryan, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission’s public outreach coordinator during the school’s Bridging the Gap program March 21. Then her boss tells her she doesn’t want her to work in front anymore.
Confused, the employee asks her boss why, and the boss tells her that Jada “doesn’t promote the image” the owner wants to project.
“What motivated this?” Ryan asked, to which the students overwhelmingly agreed that discrimination was the overriding factor.
Ryan, along with her boss, Gregory Wilson, and several other dignitaries from academia and business showed up at Lake Station Edison High School’s inaugural “Bridging the Gap” program March 21. The program aimed to get students thinking about what comes next after high school.
Their plans don’t have to include college if they don’t want, event co-organizer Lorraine Guillen-Wentz of Latin Media said. They could go straight into a career if they like, but they need to have a plan of attack to do so.
The vendors on-hand included NiSource, Work One, Anthem, First Financial Bank, Cleveland Cliffs, the Lake Station Police Department and Purdue University and Indiana University Northwest.
“The kids don’t necessarily go to the businesses, so our purpose today was to bring the businesses to them,” she said.
If someone had told Wilson he was going to be the state’s leader on Civil Rights, he’d have told them they were nuts, he said. Back when he was a kid, he wasn’t thinking about much accept hanging out and having fun.
“There were days that I just sat there and wanted to do anything but sit there in class,” he told the group. “But I had a teacher, John Hall, who reminded me that showing up is the first step, because now that you’re here, why not do something while you are? Then you end up doing something else, and pretty soon, there’s nothing stopping you from getting where you want to go.
“You just have to show up.”
Danny Lopez, vice president of external relations and corporate communications for Indiana Pacers Sports and Entertainment, spoke to both groups of students, as did Lake Station Mayor Bill Carroll, who said he was pleased with the event.
Sophomores Gracelyn Music, Valeria Perez and Dylin Urbanczyk hung around after the program and chatted. The three already have an idea of what they want to do — Gracelyn is thinking about going architecture, Valeria law and Dylin computer science — so hearing the information was beneficial, they agreed.
Dylin, however, has a plan within a plan to reach his goal: a possible stint in the military.
“I may want to go into the military to help get my education paid,” he said.