LAKEWOOD, Ohio — In a world where it can still feel scary to be seen or accepted for revealing your authentic self, a group of middle school students in Lakewood are leading a push to flip the script to create change – not only in their classrooms but also in their community.
Payton Kratz is part of a growing movement to celebrate the diversity in the halls at Harding Middle School.
Kratz knows being different can be difficult for a lot of her classmates.
"Sadly, you still see it all the time," said Kratz.
The eighth-grader is a member of the "Be That Person" club.
"Be That Person really is about your character, your mindset, your heart, your soul," said Kratz.
The initiative was born out of Lakewood City School's push to raise awareness about diversity, equity and inclusion.
"We really wanted a place where kids feel safe," said Lyndie Schuckert, the Harding Middle School counselor.
Members of the student-led club create that comfort by recognizing differences, along with the social stereotypes that often accompany them.
“I hope these biases, as we go on, start to fade away," said Kratz.
One of their projects included decorating dozens of classroom doors.
The colorful entryways are helping spark much-needed conversations about race, gender and sexual orientation.
"The more it spreads the better, so it can make the whole community of Lakewood stronger, not just Harding," said Ceci Whiteamire, a Harding eighth-grader.
The Be That Person campaign also focuses on kindness.
"We hid notes around the school that had — they were positive purples and yummy yellows. The yummy yellows had candy attached to them and the positive purples were notes to share with other people,” said Whiteamire.
Since launching in the fall, health teacher Teri Knapp said students are acknowledging and accepting differences, and in the process creating a safe space for everyone.
"Back when I was in middle school, I wish there was a club like this. It allows people to express who they are, they don't have to fit into a mold or a stereotype that's been given to them, allows them to be an individual, and I think that allows a person to be really successful," said Knapp.