Click. Click. Flash.
“That’s it. Smile, bro. Smile.”
Hunched behind his camera, Mather High School student Miguel Diaz snaps away as his fellow students rotate through the frame.
Miguel and the rest of his WE Club, headed by art and photography teacher Kara Smith, are celebrating the diversity of Mather by taking portraits of students and pasting them around the school. With over 100 nations represented and 70 languages spoken at the Chicago high school, it is arguably one of the most diverse schools in the United States.
The Mather WE Club works to tackle discrimination and promote inclusion through the WE Volunteer Now program sponsored by The Allstate Foundation. The WE Volunteer Now resources help club members brainstorm ways they can make an impact on the causes they care about.
By putting the portraits up for all to see, Smith wanted to help students feel included, and show that everyone is welcome at Mather, regardless of race, religion or sexual identity.
“Kids can come from two countries that are at war with each other, but at Mather they’re friends,” says Smith.
The diversity of the school has already made its students more compassionate and empathetic toward other cultures and nationalities, and Smith hopes that those who see the photos will further accept and embrace the differences of others.
“If everyone could come in and see the peace that we have at our school, they’d see that this is how it’s supposed to be,” says Smith. “It’s sad when people haven’t met someone from one part of the world, so they’re scared of them. If they just were more open-minded and were able to see what we see every day, it really could change a lot of people’s opinions.”
The diversity at Mather helped to create a safe space for students by making them more tolerant and understanding of each other’s differences. No matter where they come from or what they’re going through, be it the citizenship process, fleeing war or learning English, there is someone else who has gone through the same thing. If they can’t share experiences, they can lend an ear to one another’s struggles.
To celebrate their project, The Allstate Foundation invited the WE Club to the Chicago Cultural Center to see a new photo exhibit. When they arrived, students were shocked to discover the gallery was full of their own portraits.
Miguel was overjoyed to see his photos on display. He hopes that they will show people the beauty of diversity and convince them of the power that it holds to create a better world.
“It was breathtaking, really. When I took the pictures for this project, I never in a million years thought that they would be posted somewhere,” Miguel says. “It made me feel proud because I know that it will create some change and show people what we are about at Mather.”
Smith plans to continue doing the project year after year as new kids join the club. Miguel hopes that when other schools see the project, they’ll want to emulate it.
Being part of the WE Club has shown Miguel that he is part of a bigger world, and that the experiences of others matter. He wants to become a history teacher once he graduates from Mather so that he can be the same guiding light for students that his educators have been to him. He hopes that when he returns to his alma mater, he’ll find the same celebration of diversity that he experienced as a student, and that his photos will have that legacy.
“I still want to see a classroom with 30 different people from 30 different countries sitting together in unity and learning together,” he says. “I hope in five or six years I see 30 other schools doing the same thing, because they also believe in the acceptance of humanity.”
To learn more about the students of Mather High School, watch WE Day, August 9 at 8/7c on ABC.
Together with partners like The Allstate Foundation, WE is helping youth build critical social and emotional learning skills like goal-setting, empathy and relationship-building while addressing pressing issues in their communities.
Zoe Demarco is a writer and production manager for WE Stories. A third generation journalist, she has a natural curiosity for other people’s lives.