It’s been a tough year. And there are still so many things that need to be fixed in terms of discrimination and racism and understanding why people treat people the way they do. But the earlier these differences are discussed and acknowledged, the better off we’ll all be.

That’s why this seminar between two neighboring high schools with kids of vastly different backgrounds is so important.

According to an article on Tapinto.net, it happened like this: Rae Kushner Yeshiva HS in Livingston reached out to St Benedict’s in Newark to talk it out. The former is a Modern Orthodox Jewish school, and the latter, an urban college prep school with a diverse population of mostly Black and Latino kids — a perfect place to start a dialogue. (On Zoom, of course.)

Why this idea is so different from anything we’ve been seeing lately in terms of discussions about racism is that the emphasis here was on empathy as opposed to a forced and phony “love is all you need” or, worse, a “you caused this!” ideology. Because it’s not a matter of who’s the most discriminated against. It’s not a competition, after all, though lately it seems to be. It’s about what it FEELS like to be discriminated against — and empathizing with those feelings.

The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to understand what they’re feeling is much more effective than trying to force people to accept each other, or blaming any one group on the other’s problems. Planting the seeds of empathy early on can go a long way toward the acceptance and harmony that we all really want.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco. Any opinions expressed are Judi's own.