Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Greeley West teenager makes his mark against racism


Wednesday, February 11, 2009
By: Chris Casey

James Lozano still bears a faint, crescent-shaped scar around his right eye from the day he stood up to the bullies.

It was a year ago, in the commons at Greeley West High School, when he saw his black friend getting racially harassed by a group of students.

“I just couldn’t stand it, so I just came over and told them to stop,” James said.

A Greeley West security staffer intervened just after the group — led by a student and his younger brother — turned their taunting on James and gave him a shove.

James, 18, started to walk away, thinking it was over. Then — wham — everything went black.

The leader of the group had peeled off and came in behind James. He landed a sucker punch — a fist, encrusted with a chunky ring — near James’ right eye. As James was being pulled out of the fray, the other vocal taunter, the younger brother, kicked him.

James needed 50 stitches around his eye.

The two main harassers were expelled from the school district and were later each convicted of assault. The original victim of their bullying, the black teen, has since left the school.

While the incident left James with a dimmer view of human nature, it didn’t plant a seed of ugliness, nor a desire for eye-for-an-eye retaliation.

After James saw news reports of a “No Place for Hate” program being launched last spring in Colorado and Wyoming, he knew what he wanted to do. Working with staff sponsors at Greeley West this fall, he contacted the Anti-Defamation League and got the ball rolling for West’s own “No Place for Hate” program.

It’s an intensive effort, starting with training exercises for a group of tolerance-minded students. The coalition then works on organizing projects that encourage diversity and respect on campus.

By the end of the school year, West hopes to receive its certification (University Schools in Greeley is also a participant) as a “No Place for Hate” school. James and the coalition will seek signatures on a “Resolution of Respect.” James hopes to get 80 percent of West’s student body to sign the sheets. Part of the pledge says, “I will speak out against all forms of prejudice and discrimination. I will reach out to support those who are targets of hate.”

That’s what James did last February.

For years, he had absorbed the occasional racial-toned digs directed at him — “It was in kind of subtle ways. … They didn’t know that that kind of stuff offended or made me feel put down” — but it crossed the line when the target was a friend.

Lozano’s parents — Jamie and Rey Lozano — are proud of the initiative their son has shown. He’s not turning a blind eye to the problem of hurtful speech and actions occurring in the hallways.

Renae Stringer, one of James’ staff sponsors at West, said the Lozano family has taken an ugly incident and turned it into a positive for the school and wider community. She said James is a humble leader whose actions have inspired his peers to get involved in the no-hate campaign.

Stringer was on hand when the student coalition first came together. “It was just really neat because they were there to support James.”

The certification of a “No Place for Hate” school is renewable annually, so each year a group of students will take up the cause of promoting respect.

Eventually, that day of slurs and slugs in the commons will be forgotten about. It was a rare instance of racial harassment in a school turning physical.

James, who plans to study engineering or biology in college next year, will transition with fellow seniors out of West in May. But he’ll keep the scar.

He said he just wants to leave the school a better place than he found it. His other purpose is to keep the bullies under broad daylight, “so people know that this kind of behavior and hatred still exist in our society. Just to be aware of it and know how to handle it. I just feel like it’s something I really need to do.”

Chris Casey covers immigration, diversity and higher education for The Tribune. His column appears on Wednesdays. Reach him at (970) 392-5623 or

Powered by FeedBurner

No comments: