PEACE in Action

Center for Diversity Education

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Building a Culture of Peace in Schools and Communities
Center for Diversity Education

The Center for Diversity Education (CDE) is a nonprofit educational organization located in Asheville, North Carolina with a mission to increase the ways diversity is covered in the daily life of the classroom in grades K-12 and on the college level.

This mission has led CDE to create programs and activities that help teachers and the community build understanding, tolerance, curiosity, and respect among the cultures, races, ethnic groups, and religions in Western North Carolina (WNC).

More than 15,000 students and adults across Western North Carolina see the Center's programs and exhibits each year.

Some popular programs used by schools, community groups, businesses, and houses of worship include:

  • Coming to the Mountains: Immigration and WNC (includes the stories of families from five continents and the businesses they created);
  • Festival of Lights (a celebration of winter holidays in 13 cultures);
  • In the Footsteps of Pilgrims: Historic Travels of Faith (looks at five religions practiced locally and the traditions of pilgrimages);
  • Mi Historia (the story of Latino immigration to WNC during the past 30 years);
  • Trail of Tears (theatrical performance about the Cherokee nation);
  • An Unmarked Trail: Stories of African Americans in the County from 1850-1900, and from 1900-1950;
  • Seasons of Gratitude (harvest celebrations from around the world);
  • WWII Mountain Memories: Home Front to the Frontline (based on interviews with more than 75 local veterans and civilians, as well as archival material);
  • With All Deliberate Speed: School Integration in Buncombe County;
  • Anne Frank: A History for Today (3,500 attendees from 8 counties).

In developing its programs and exhibits, the Center's staff guides local students in using archival research and first-person interviews. The resulting material is designed around the NC Standard Course of Study in such a way that teachers can use them easily as part of their curriculum.

The Center has prepared exhibits on most of the above programs. Schools can borrow the exhibits. CDE also takes programs on the road.

For example, in December 2005, CDE staff members brought the Festival of Lights Road Show to 5,000 students in six counties in the area. The students learned about the traditions of people around the world celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice and other holidays.

They tasted Indian candies, Greek breads, and Peruvian teas. Girls in the group dressed in white robes with glowing halos of greenery as they learned about Swedish customs. Both students and teachers learned more about the roots of their own holiday traditions, as well as learning about those completely unfamiliar to them. The Christmas celebration of Las Posadas in Mexico was the most popular holiday choice again this year, followed by Chanukah and the Russian New Year and Christmas.

In January 2006, CDE was offering Good Fortune: The Asian New Year and Global Trade. Through artifacts and food from China, Vietnam, and Korea, students learn about the cultural and religious traditions of the Asian New Year along with ways the celebration impacts on global trade.

Besides the popular programs mentioned above, CDE also collaborates with other organizations to present special programs related to historical events. For example, it partnered with the Stephens-Lee Alumni Association to honor the students who desegregated Asheville in the 1960s. Known as ASCORE (Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality), these young people desegregated a library, a lunch counter and much more; 35 ASCORE members returned to Asheville for the memorial activities from California, Michigan and other states.

Another program variation is taking the classes on tour. The Many Faces of Asheville involves leading the students in grades 6 - 12 on an all-day walking and bus tour to learn about diversity in Buncombe County. The trip includes walking through the African-American historic communities and stops at a synagogue, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and/or Basilica of St. Lawrence, and Southside Cemetery. Lunch is served at the Mexican restaurant El Chapala.

A more challenging field trip, now available for the upper grades, is the Houses of Worship Field Trip to Atlanta, Georgia. One can get the flavor of the trip from the comments of a member of the adult group that went in 2004:
"My experience became somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. Our reception at the Muslim Mosque was overwhelming. They were SO GLAD we had come and were so eager to explain their religious beliefs to us.

The visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church was incredibly moving; our guide had "walked" with Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps the most awesome experience was visiting the Hindu temple when their spiritual guide from India was holding "a revival." For me, the trip was not only educational but was personally enlightening, causing me to re-examine my own religious beliefs and, once again, to come to the conclusion that religious freedom and tolerance must continue to be a part of American life."

Two years ago, the Center moved to the campus of the University of North Carolina, Asheville (UNCA). While continuing to maintain a distinct nonprofit status, CDE was then able to partner with UNCA students in the Undergraduate Research program in the development of exhibits.

Subsequently, CDE has begun to work more closely with the Teaching Fellows program that prepares students for a professional career in education. Part of the work with the pre-service teachers highlights how CDE exhibits are created around eyewitness accounts and primary sources document research. In the summer, CDE also provides staff development programs.

For information about upcoming programs and the procedure for registering with CDE in order to borrow exhibits or participate in CDE's traveling programs, see the Center's website: or contact the CDE office at (828) 232-5024 or email: The office is now located at 104A Carmichael, UNCA campus.

[Editor's Note: Deborah Miles is the Executive Director of the Center for Diversity Education. She is a 1975 graduate of Hendrix College where she majored in Elementary Education. She founded the Center in 1995 to assist teachers to present the diverse cultures of the local and global community. On November 19, 2005 she was awarded the 2005 Nancy Susan Reynolds Award for Race Relations for "desegregating the curriculum." ]

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