NEWPORT NEWS,VA (WVEC-TV) -- "It reveals some of the things that we're taught not to talk about in society," Jonathan Zur said.
Jonathan is the creator of "Project Inclusion" a program run at Heritage High School that tries to unite students of different backgrounds to examine and explore their attitudes and experiences about race and prejudice. The goal is to help them understand each other better and for that to create a better environment at school and in the community.
Project Inclusion also includes exercises that reveal some of their experiences, as well -- like one called "The Racial Advantage Line". It begins with Jonathan asking personal questions.
"If you've ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed because of your race or ethnicity take one step back," Jonathan asked.
Nearly half of the group stepped back. What did that reveal?
"There's a lot of judgment taking place and students who feel they have to change how they act in order to fit into school culture."
"After about 30 questions we see a pretty significant divide that exists, some along racial lines, but also along lines of neighborhood, along lines of lived experiences, then we start to talk about that in this country as much as we'd like to think that everyone has an equal starting point we really don't. Then we start to talk about what that means."
Project Inclusion gives students a safe place to truly open up and they recognize that. That's when breakthroughs are made.
"You think that you're not prejudice, but you're born with it," one student said. "That's what you get taught at an early age so you go with it, believe that it's right and then you sit down and until you have conversations with other people and hear about their background or where they come from it's like wait -- maybe I am prejudiced."
"No one's going to judge you," another student said. "In this group we're with, we can actually sit down and talk about it and get to an understanding that people have different views about race."
"And so when it's out in the open, I think people know better and when they know better they have the opportunity to do better," Jonathan said.
And some students said that could start by recognizing a need to treat people better and with respect by saying a nice word that can lift them up.
"Because at the end of the day, we're going to have to be the ones that have to change to make the outcome better than it is right now," another student said.