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Respect Diversity teaches tolerance and diversity through the arts

9th – 12th Grade students from Harding Fine Arts Academy in Oklahoma City created 55 masks that individually reflect the Beauty of Diversity for the Respect Diversity Arts Exhibition.  Photo provided
9th – 12th Grade students from Harding Fine Arts Academy in Oklahoma City created 55 masks that individually reflect the Beauty of Diversity for the Respect Diversity Arts Exhibition. Photo provided


By Darla Shelden

City Sentinel Reporter


The Respect Diversity Foundation (RDF) is an Oklahoma City 501(c)3 nonprofit promoting tolerance, acceptance and affinity through communication, education and the arts.

For over a decade, students throughout Oklahoma have explored creative ways of addressing issues of cultural diversity, human rights, and global peace by participating in the annual Respect Diversity Arts Exhibition. Approximately 30 schools statewide entered this year’s exhibit.

The Respect Diversity Arts Exhibition inspires teachers to guide students to explore diversity through the arts,” said Joan Korenblit, Executive Director, Respect Diversity Foundation  “Art integration enhances lessons.”  

“Since 2002, we’ve launched the Respect Diversity Arts Exhibition with leaders in our community,” said Korenblit. “Diversity is our strength. The better we know our neighbors, the more we find ways to appreciate their cultures and the closer we come toward peace”

“The first year Civil Rights Leader Clara Luper helped to launch the contest at Science Museum Oklahoma.  Another year, Governor Brad Henry did the honors at the Capitol,” she added. “The following year First Lady Kim Henry joined us as a storyteller for the launching at an elementary school in Oklahoma City.”

Korenblit says these issues may be addressed through a curriculum-centered experience such as reading Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It helps the teacher capture a “teachable moment” to launch a Respect Diversity Symbol project.

Participants may also learn from Respect Diversity programs when a speaker relates a family story of harassment or violence motivated by intolerance.

According to Korenblit, once the participants have received a “mind and heart opening” educational or communication experience, they begin to engage in discussion, which she believes is often transformational.

“Student collaboration often opens the door to create a  symbol of respect for diversity .” Korenblit said.  “It might be visual artwork, a poem, or a song and dance routine. Any artistic expression can be utilized to create a symbol of diversity”

“Behind every entry to the Respect Diversity Arts Exhibition is a story,” she said.  “Some displays show the culmination of a human rights unit of study.  Others are inspired by the study of traditions of various cultures.”

This year’s exhibit theme is  “Respect, Responsibility, Resilience.” 

Over the past 15 years, over two hundred thousand students throughout Oklahoma have participated in the RDF exhibition.  The collaborative arts projects are showcased for a full month each spring.

“By collaborating on art as they learn about other cultures, human rights issues and by showcasing symbols of respect for diversity, our youth are helping to define who we want to be as a nation,” Korenblit said.

“In fact, we ask all educators and facilitators to enter their groups’ symbols, whenever possible.”

Exhibit entries are created by Pre-K – 12th grade students.

New this year, RDF is partnering with the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice to promote the project,” Different and the Same.” It is a child-focused initiative that helps students identify, talk about, and prevent prejudice.

Together, RDF and OCCJ will provide a free training session for volunteers. It is designed to prepare them to lead a six-week series for second grade students on respecting each other’s uniqueness and differences.

Training will take place on Monday, August 4, from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. at Mercy School, 14001 North Harvey Avenue, in Edmond.

In addition, RDF has joined with the Interfaith Alliance for the Beyond Coexistence Project, which entails a series of forums and other activities to be held in the fall.

“RDF is also partnering with Children’s Theatre to offer a civil rights panel during a few of their Spring performances,” Korenblit added.

“Through art, students are teaching people that no matter what our differences may be, by working together we can make this a better world,” Korenblit said.  “What a wonderful way to teach respect for all cultures.”

For more information, contact: Joan Korenblit at 405-359-0369, [email protected] or visit


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