by Julie Lineback
When educator and humanitarian Emilie Martinez-Palacio took the stage for the University of West Georgia College of Education’s third annual Dag Folger Critical Topics in Education Speaker Series, she began with a dance. With that, dressed in traditional Garifuna attire, the Belize native glided into her lecture on multiculturalism and its importance in education.
“Multiculturalism is the medium that will transform the world,” said Mrs. Emilie, as she is affectionately called. “This is the medium that we use to transform our education system.”
In addition to teaching, Mrs. Emilie’s experience with multicultural education also includes her work as the founder and director of Helping Hands, a resource center that focuses on supplementing the educational needs of students in the community. She also serves as a national commissioner for the Girl Guides Association, a program that works to empower young women by teaching them teambuilding skills, confidence, and self esteem.
“I believe whatever you have inside is what you give to somebody else,” she shared. “So if you’re empty, you have nothing to give. You always have to refill your soul, refill your being, in order to give.”
An overview of the Belizean cultural demographic was the backdrop for the evening’s message. With a population of 363,000, it is a melting pot of different groups of people who excel because of unity, collaboration and cultural commitment.
“In order to live life, you must embrace it. And in order to embrace it, you must share it,” she said. “Your culture makes you. If you use your culture to bring out the best in you, you are empowered educationally and personally.”
Multicultural education has been around for hundreds of years, explained Mrs. Emilie, beginning when explorers were colonizing new lands and had to understand the culture of the natives. Today’s advantages, like the ability to communicate with the touch of a button or travel long distances in a short length of time, allow us opportunities to interact with people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
“The world is becoming global,” she said. “If we do not change, we will be left behind. We need to use mass media to our advantage and mobilize ourselves for good and to motivate and support each other.
“Sometimes, we become blind. Sometimes, most of us are plugged in with our earphones, we’re connected to our computers, and we’re connected to everything—except people. We need to get connected to each other. We need each other to survive.”
Mrs. Emilie said this is especially true in education. Multicultural education uses materials and strategies to assist teachers when responding to issues created by the rapidly changing demographics of their students. It provides students with the knowledge about histories, cultures and contributions of diverse groups.
“Multiculturalism breaks barriers,” she observed. “It allows that person to be the best person they can be. There is an openness that the children use that they can grow and be their best selves.”
According to Mrs. Emilie, multicultural education focuses on a sense of inclusiveness, trust, and respect for others, and looks beyond race, color, creed or religion. This varies from traditional education curriculum, which may overlook individual cultural learning styles. By allowing students to recognize and understand diverse perspectives, they are more likely to become successful, both academically and socially, and make meaningful contributions to society.
“Multiculturalism is what transforms children,” Mrs. Emilie said. “It breaks stereotypes and makes it easier for the person to move on. This approach will allow us to make effective changes that are necessary to overcome all the ills we are facing.”
To watch Mrs. Emilie’s lecture in its entirety, which includes song and dance, please visit http://livestream.com.Posted on