Whether recent allegations of racism along the Gulf Coast, regarding the response to Hurricane Katrina, reflect reality or perception, it is clear that the U.S. still has significant divisions that fall along ethnic and racial lines.
In fact, a recent survey of young people across the United States indicates that while there is a general acceptance of people from other cultures or backgrounds, more than half still perceive that peers spend more time at school with kids of the same background.
In an effort to alleviate prejudices and promote tolerance, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and The Allstate Foundation have created "Youth for Unity," a program designed to teach young people about the advantages of diversity.
The program also aims to help children and teens appreciate themselves as unique individuals, recognize unfairness and take personal leadership in confronting bias.
Among other things, the survey - conducted by BGCA and The Allstate Foundation - found that young people believe their race, ethnic group or religion is still the main factor in achieving financial success, but also that a diverse population makes our country stronger.
"It is telling to us that the youth diversity survey delivers such a mixed message, with young people believing that diversity gives our country strength, while still saying that financial success is based on the color of their skin or their religion," said Roxanne Spillett, president of BGCA.
"The survey shows that while we have made significant progress in teaching our young people about diversity and tolerance, we still have much to do," she added.
It also indicates that education starts at home.
Whether they know it or not, parents play a critical role in helping their children develop positive attitudes about inclusion and go a long way in re-emphasizing the lessons learned in school or in programs like Youth for Unity.
"By removing barriers and providing an opportunity for America's youth to experience other cultures - and their own - on a more intimate level, our society will be well-positioned to draw on the strengths of our diverse community," says Ron McNeil, a member of the BGCA Board of Trustees and senior vice president of Allstate Insurance Co.