Bay High student a finalist in Maltz Museum’s 'Stop The Hate' awards
“My great-grandfather was living in a small farming village in German-speaking Czechoslovakia. He was approached by the Nazi party, who demanded that he join the Nazi cause. My great-grandfather refused.”
So begins the moving essay, written by Bay High senior Aurora Fleming, which finished in the top 10 out of nearly 3,300 entries in the Stop the Hate Youth Speak Out competition sponsored by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland.
Aurora stumbled across the contest when looking for scholarship opportunities. The theme resonated with her, not only because of her great-grandfather’s history in resisting the Nazis, but also because of her experience as an exchange student in Germany during her high school junior year.
“As I stood in the Hamburg train station several months into my stay,” she relates in her essay, “I felt I knew why I had come ... I saw literally hundreds of Syrian refugees huddled on the cold train station floor with little or no belongings. Like ripples on a pond, I thought of my great-grandfather and how he, too, had been a refugee and was forced out of his home for what he believed in.”
Aurora and her German host family went on to collect clothing and other supplies, and then brought them back to the refugees at the train station. She said floods of refugees were everywhere in Germany, even at the school she attended. Those encounters brought global participation and perspective into sharp focus for her.
“Most people, especially in the U.S., believe we’re insulated from these problems outside our country and that we are not connected to them,” she said. “If we were all more informed, if these issues were talked about more, there would be less hate, more understanding, and a lot of the problems would be solved.”
Aurora received a $500 scholarship, but she said the experience of presenting her essay to an audience of about 500 at the awards ceremony, taking interview questions, and meeting award-winning television journalist Lori Stokes (daughter of former U.S. Congressman Louis Stokes) was rewarding in itself.
Jeffery Allen, Maltz Museum's director of education, explained that the contest is about more than recognizing and evaluating instances of discrimination. “We want students to recognize they have agency and a voice,” he said. "We encourage them to see the role they can play in creating a more inclusive future."
Aurora has also shared her experience and views with others through her school’s Team Africa club.
“I speak so that my experiences may inspire others to engage, and so that our world may ultimately become a smaller and more tolerant place,” she said.
Aurora is a member of the National Honor Society and played tennis at Bay High. Although she didn’t speak or understand German when she decided to study in that country, she learned the language during her year abroad. She will enroll in The Ohio State University next year to major in German and minor in French. She resides in Bay Village with her parents, Jennifer and Kyle Fleming, and her younger brother.
Access this story at wbvobserver.com to read Aurora's full essay.
Director of Communications for the Bay Village City School District