Welcome to Teen Scene, written by the great students of our area. Each month, our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents on a wide range of topics. We’d love to hear from you and we’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry – let’s just get to sharing.
This month, 17-year-old Lily Krietzberg, who lives in Colts Neck and attends Colts Neck High School, tells us how she channeled her passion for understanding and tolerance into an organization that helps people learn about religious differences and similarities. Here is Lily’s story:
If there’s one thing that has characterized my high school career, it has been involvement in a program called Garden State Mosaic (www.gardenstatemosaic.org). Since I joined in freshman year, it’s been a huge part of my life. Mosaic stands for Mobilizing Our Students for Action in Building Interfaith Communities. The program provides a forum for teens from a variety of religious backgrounds to discuss their different faiths. I’ve met such amazing people and learned so many new things.
From the outside, the religions we learned about in Mosaic seemed very different. The languages, the forms of worship, the rules and belief systems, even the places of worship themselves seemed to contrast each other. In reality, however, they’re all rooted in the same basic concepts. The Golden Rule of loving your neighbor as yourself is extremely prevalent in every faith. Helping others is also a major tenant of every tradition. From Judaism’s tzedakah to Islam’s zakat, every religion preaches the importance of devoting time, energy, and financial aid to other people, regardless of who they are or where they come from.
Mosaic has taught me the beauty of recognizing our similarities while celebrating our differences and that we, much like our religions, all have a common thread. This is critical, since we humans connect with others because of that common ground. Recognizing our similarities puts a name and a face to a group of people and therefore, by getting to know that person, our prejudices and judgments based on stereotypes fade away. It’s easy to be afraid of new things and people, but that fear ultimately leads to ignorance and hatred. Learning about one another is an incredibly beneficial way to understand our different circumstances and be more accepting of them. Knowledge is a powerful tool to eradicate intolerance. Celebrating the differences that makes each one of us stand out is even more important. The world would be such a boring place if we were all exactly the same. Instead of allowing our differences to be a barrier, we should use them as a bridge, an opportunity to teach others, and a reminder to keep an open mind.
The themes I learned from Mosaic inspired me to start Teens Against Intolerance (TAI) (www.teensagainstintolerance.org), a program that runs alongside Mosaic and works to bring its powerful message to middle schools in the form of an assembly. I’ve always been passionate about making a difference in the world, and this program has shown me that I can. We focus on promoting tolerance, particularly religious, because it is the key to making the world a better place and to improving the relationships between people so we can work together to fix other world problems.
Throughout the organization’s life, I’ve learned the ups and downs of working towards a long term goal. The support that I’ve received from my parents and mentors pushed me to keep going. The hard work and dedication of the TAI team made me realize that anything is possible when we work together. Mosaic introduced me to the most amazing peers and group members, and Teens Against Intolerance wouldn’t be where it is today without them. It’s not easy to talk in front of an audience of 400 middle school students, and I commend them for that. I’m so grateful that they decided to join me on an adventure.
After years of preparation, I am proud to say that we gave our first presentation to Cedar Drive Middle School in February. It went so much better than I envisioned. There were times when I wasn’t sure we would ever get the organization off the ground, and it was a huge boost of confidence to finally see it materialize. The most rewarding part was the comments from Cedar Drive students and teachers. Several students thanked us for showing them that being different is special. We are available and excited to schedule more assemblies and work with more local middle schools to spread our message.
I’m so glad to have had these incredible experiences and valuable life lessons. I’ve improved greatly as a person and become more knowledgeable about the world around me. My confidence has increased, and I’ve become a more capable leader and community member. Although it may be difficult at times, we have to learn to respect others and appreciate what sets us all apart.