Andrew Maraniss on Race

The other day I was scanning Twitter and ran across a provocative thread of posts from an attorney, librarian and writer named April Hathcock.

“Ok, friends,” she wrote, “We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is race, racism, and whiteness … We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is queer hate, trans hate, heteronormativity…We’re going to be intentional about the oppression and violence about which we speak. We’re going to be intersectional but also specific … We’ve been using intersectionality as an excuse to use feel good euphemisms. We’re going to stop doing that.”

I was intrigued by April’s reframing of the subject because not only does it appeal to the activists among us, in its specificity it can be used to disarm the cynic who dismisses diversity and inclusion efforts as unnecessary, liberal, PC mumbo jumbo. Let’s get real, April is saying.

In 2014, I published a book called STRONG INSIDE, a biography of Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Wallace played at Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s, and as he made history on the basketball courts of the Deep South, Wallace feared for his life. He’d ask himself what’s the worst that could happen, and in his mind, he imagined being shot and killed somewhere like Starkville, Mississippi or Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was routinely harassed by fans with threats with lynching or castration. Back on his own campus in Nashville, Wallace was kicked out of a white church, his best friend was addressed by the N-word on his first day of English class.

A few months ago, I converted STRONG INSIDE into a young readers’ edition, aimed at kids 10 and older. With concern over the sensitivities of some readers (or more accurately, their parents), I debated how much of the derogatory language to keep in this condensed version of the book. In the end, I opted to keep all of it. The truly offensive thing, I decided, would be to whitewash history and let the racists off the hook by sanitizing their words, and in so doing minimizing the hostility and discrimination Wallace encountered and so courageously overcame.

So, I appreciate that this isn’t international diversity day. It’s the International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination. And this year’s theme isn’t “Celebrate (Insert Diverse Name Here) Culture Day.” Rather, the theme is “Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.”
This is the kind of real language April Hathcock was calling for. And a reminder that sometimes being careful about the language we use means telling it like it is, not cleaning it up.

About the Author

Andrew Maraniss Headshot Andrew Maraniss is the New York Times-bestselling author of STRONG INSIDE. The original, adult version of the book received the Lillian Smith Book Award for civil rights and the RFK Book Awards’ Special Recognition Prize for social justice. The Young Readers edition has been named one of the Top 10 Biographies for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24, and visit his website at

Strong Inside Cover
Order his book!

SHHHHH Don’t Say It! The Big R (Racism)



The word itself has become synonymous with hate. So, what is Racism? The dictionary defines it as:

“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race. Characteristics that distinguish individuals as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

Examples outside of race: chauvinism, bigotry, casteism.

Let’s take a moment to pause for 60 seconds, think about the definition and ask ourselves a few questions:
• Do I believe this concept or definition? Do I feel I exhibit some of these behaviors toward others? Do I feel like I believe my own race is superior to others? Do I believe in stereotypes of other races? Examples: African American’s are involved in higher rates of crime. Latinos are illegal immigrants. Asian Americans bring sex-trafficking to the U.S.
• Does racism still exist? Short answer, yes.
• Do we need to think about racism today? Short answer, yes.
• What can we do?

What can I do?

Let’s talk about what you can do on an individual level to combat racism. First of all, we need to have those tough, at times awkward, conversations about race and culture. Second, we need to learn how to identify our own racial bias and stereotypes that we may subscribe to. One of the first steps is to learn how to be comfortable in the discomfort. We might not be happy to find out that we have some implicit biases (that’s the “discomfort” part) but know we can do something about it! At first, it’s going to be uncomfortable to acknowledge we might have some “kinks” to work out. But, once we do, we’re that much closer to combating racism!

Racism is a learned behavior. Good news is: anything that can be taught can be unlearned by doing some self-work. But we must also recognize it is learned. To help end the cycle of racism we need to talk about it. However, the hardest part is being open to pinpointing some internal bias we might have and teaching others to do the same.

I challenge everyone who is reading this post to push yourself a little outside of your own comfort zone by striking up a conversation with someone of a different cultural background or identity than your own. Buy them a cup of coffee, hold a door open for them, greet them with a smile, or offer a kind word. Take small, baby steps to get outside of your box. Start finding ways to unlearn some of the stereotypes you’ve learned and to unlearn your own implicit bias. The most important step is to start.

How is STARS helping to eliminate racial discrimination?

We believe it starts with our youth.
To kick off International Day to End Racial Discrimination, Maplewood High and Jackson County high schools teamed up on March 14th to participate in Diversity Day.

What is Diversity Day? We gather 40 students from diverse backgrounds to talk with one another. The purpose is to not only create empathy getting to know people who are different from you but to help create cultural shifts in thinking and how to interact in cultural encounters. We talk about some uncomfortable, and sometimes awkward, topics such as race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. The youth have an opportunity to learn and discuss what it means to have an implicit bias and what cultural competency looks like, as well as the stereotypes and perceptions that exist today. After learning about these topics, the youth have the opportunity to explore and dissect their own bias toward cultural stereotypes. We challenge each individual to get outside of their “box” that might be setting the foundation to continue the cycle of racism.

The students get a chance to experience what it might be like to walk in the footsteps of another person who is different from them. We hope by participating the youth will realize that it’s easy to put people in boxes; however, doing so limits their abilities and how they perceive the people around them.

Once we are able to remove the box, we are able to see that coming together is where we will all find true power.

Help STARS continue our vital work by becoming a monthly donor or making a one-time donation.

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Reflections on Random Acts of Kindness


Reflections on Random Acts of Kindness

So, what is Random Acts of Kindness, better known to me as “RAK”?

A little bit about Random Acts of Kindness 

It is an unplanned act whose goal is to bring kindness and spread kindness to those we know and those we do not know. It’s a practice that offers hope to unsuspecting people to provide a ray of light in someone’s life. It brings a smile to a frown; it can create a positive emotion when none was expected; it can be the beginning of a new start; and it has the capability to change how we treat one another.

I’ve been fortunate to witness “RAK” first hand many times. However, I know my experience is not the norm.

The first thing to understand about RAK is that it can’t be about you, it is about bringing joy to others.

Random Acts of Kindness in Action

Let me share a great example: Last week, while doing a presentation to middle & high school students from three surrounding counties, a powerful RAK showed up.

It wasn’t planned. It just happened.

So, here’s a little backstory, a student bravely shared how she is being bullied at her current school. She shared how challenging everyday life can be without a friend to sit with or talk to and how painful it is to not have someone to support you. She courageously explained how being different than the status quo makes her a target. She shared how a friendly smile, a hug, or compliment could brightness someone’s day.

The beauty of what we do at STARS, and with the MOVE2STAND training, is that we can be the nudge, the voice that says “take some sort of action to be of support to someone else.”

When young people or adults decide they want to support positive change, incredible acts of courage and kindness occur.

As facilitators, we often don’t get to see all the change that comes from our work. We know the seeds have been planted and, with a little sun light and water, the message will grow.

In this case, only hours after leaving the training, I received a picture from a teacher stating, “Today was a wake-up call for them, an eye opening experience for many and that they could and needed to do more”.

The teacher shared with me during our last break, one student from another school went up to the student who is isolated and being bullied, reached out to her to give her that friendly smile, that hug and that compliment she needed so much. I found out they exchanged numbers and have begun a new friendship.

There is comfort knowing, in the words of the Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer, “We can’t do everything and there is a sense of liberation in that but we can all do something.”

My challenge to everyone reading this is to do “something” that brings joy and kindness to others.

Looking for some inspiration?
Here’s a few of my favorite RAK caught in action.

Help STARS continue our vital work by becoming a monthly donor or making a one-time donation.

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Compassion: The Antidote to Trauma

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by negativity?  Turning on the news you see a stream of violence, drug abuse, scandal and scary statistics.  The weight of our social ills, mental health issues and rates of physical disease can make many feel helpless…or even worse, cynical.

Compassion: The Antidote to Trauma

One research study has begun to transform the way people think about these issues; instead of feeling overwhelmed, they feel hope.  The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control in the mid 90’s.  Surveying over 17,000 patients, they found a strong relationships between childhood adversity and later development of disease, disability and social problems.  From crime to cancer, from academic failure to alcoholism, high rates of childhood trauma was the common denominator.

Fifteen years later, scientists have found that toxic levels of stress hurt the developing brains and bodies of children.  Specifically, toxic stress from trauma changes the very architecture of your brain, kills your cells and even changes the way your genes are expressed. Getting deep beneath the skin and putting cracks in the foundation for lifelong health and wellness.

Why would this knowledge create hope?  Because now, we better understand how to meaningfully solve our most enduring problems with one approach.  Since ACEs are the root cause, we need to decrease and alleviate childhood trauma.

When a child is displaying negative behavior, it is often due to stress hormones surging through their bodies which put them in fight, flight or freeze mode.  This is a natural survival response.  When kids come from traumatic backgrounds, they frequently experience this survival reaction.

The CDC’s recommendations for driving down rates of ACEs are safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.  It may seem overly simple, but empowering coaches, teachers, pediatricians, parents and mentors to understand how childhood adversity impacts health and behavior creates a powerful response which is the antidote to trauma.  Suddenly these adults change their question from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”

Science shows we heal child trauma and promote resilience through trauma-informed, or compassionate care.  When hurt and reactive kids are met with calm and safe adults, they can begin to learn these skills themselves.  The brain continues to grow and develop through 25 years of age.  This means adults can help kids build neural connections to combat trauma and improve functioning simply by modeling the behavior they want to see.

Many adults are highly motivated to help and support youth but they become burned out because they deal with challenging behavior, they don’t understand on a daily basis.

For example, when a child curses you, it is difficult not to take it personally.  When these same adults recognize what is happening in the brains and bodies of these children and adolescents, they can respond in a compassionate way that doesn’t worsen trauma symptoms but begins to heal them.

Programs that treat families and youth break the cycle of physical disease, health risk behaviors, addiction, violence and mental health issues.  Realizing the deep impact of trauma, recognizing signs and symptoms, and responding in a way that reduces symptoms are the keys to trauma informed care and a healthier society.  By doing what is morally right for children, we are doing what is logically and fiscally right for all Tennesseans.   This science provides hope that we can move from marginal to massive results in addressing our most burdensome problems.




STARS Program Wish List

Due to the growth and demands of our services, our programs are always in need of specific items from our STARS family. We would love for you to consider donating to STARS the following items:

We’ve categorized the needs based on each of our programs:

Student Assistance Program

  • File Folders
  • General Office Supplies
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Stress Balls (for the students to use when prepping for tests)
  • Tabletop Zen Gardens (for the students to use for therapeutic sessions)
  • Story Books (centered on behaviors, feelings, manners, etc. – gently used is okay)
  • Kleenex
  • School Floor Mats 
  • 2016 Desk Calendars
  • Reams of Plain White Paper
  • Gift Cards to Office Depot

Kids on the Block

Services for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Youth Overcoming Drug Abuse

  • Non-perishable Snacks (including juice boxes)
  • Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text (gently used is okay and as many as we can get)
  • Art supplies (anything from construction paper to painting supplies)
  • $15 and $30 visa gift cards to use as stipends for speakers
  •  All-Day Youth Bus Passes  (As many as we can get)


  • (50) $10 visa gift cards to use as prizes during our MOVE2STAND trainings

If you have any questions, please contact STARS Development office at 615.983.8720 or email our Development & Communications Coordinator, Heidi Rogers.