Denfeld News

May 24, 2015
Duluth News Tribune

Denfeld graduating senior already has history of helping women
By Michael Creger

Nalani Harris, a senior at Denfeld High School, was recently honored with the Steve Rolland Youth Peacemaker Award by Duluth's Men As Peacemakers at its annual awards dinner. Awards and scholarships go to three individuals or groups each year who are nominated as "peacemakers" who "exemplified the work of building peace and promoting nonviolence" in the community. 

Harris plans to use her scholarship money for continuing her education at St. Cloud State University. 

We asked Harris Five Questions about her work and the award.

Denfeld integration specialist Aaron Gelineau introduced you at the ceremony earlier this month. Do you remember the first time you met him and the interaction you had?

I was about 9 years old, just moved to Duluth. A neighbor around my age brought me to the Washington Community Center to get to know people before my first day of school. I walked in the building and saw dozens of kids my age running around, playing games, really enjoying themselves. 

I've never been one for big crowds, especially when they're made up of immature children that still believed in cooties. You could say I've had an old soul for the majority of my life, which drew me to the biggest adult in the establishment - Aaron. I'll admit I was intimidated until he had given me a bear hug after noticing my obvious discomfort. I don't think that I ever imagined that he'd become one of the few adults that supported me - wanted me to succeed both academically and socially - without blood relation. 

I think finding someone that genuine is hard, so I'm lucky he found me amongst all the other kids. Then again, he is tall enough to see well beyond me, hah.

What inspires you to get involved in peer activities?

I focus on healthy relationship topics and sex trafficking awareness and women's studies simply because it hits home. One, I'm a woman. And two, unhealthy relationships and sexual abuse happen in a few different communities, including high schools. So my involvement in educating my peers about said topics (and more), boils down to how close it hits home for me and how much I want my peers to be aware. There needs to be more male involvement in "feminist" type movements.

Can you tell us a little about the "Girls Group" at Men As Peacemakers?

Girls Group is a group of girls that have been recommended by a member of the community, whether it be a teacher, a mentor or someone else - a girl demonstrating a need of some sort. I was seen as one due to my truancy issues in middle school. Due to my absences, they assumed I wouldn't be on track to graduate. 

Once I got to the group room, I saw a variety of girls I never assumed I could feel comfortable talking to. But the atmosphere changed as soon as the situation was explained. In essence, "these girls who you can't stand to look at in the hallway will become your friends. These girls that you assume would spread the nastiest rumors will hold onto your secrets like they were their own. These girls you never saw similarities in will feel what you do. They'll understand you." 

That's kind of how I'd imagine introducing a new group to it because I do not remember what they said to me when I was 13. 

We learn about safe sex and birth control because clearly, high school students need that burned into their heads. If not boys, the girls need to be prepared. We learn about financial stability, how to manage credit, buy smart, etc. How to maintain good grades and a social life. 

We learn about raising up our fellow woman, to take pride in who we are, to be proud of the label "feminist." Because there is a stigma around that word, one that makes some individuals shy away rather than set it straight. 

We learn about life, the light and the dark - true happiness and depression. 

With each session, I'd say we learn one of a combination of these lessons. Girls Group, it brings us individuals together. We never thought we'd get along with our middle school enemies or that we'd know how to spot victims of sex trafficking. We never knew that somehow, this group, would be more than snacks and a ticket out of the worst class we had. I can vouch for my group (seniors) and say it's like a sisterhood. As corny as it sounds, it's true.

Has there been a specific moment that you remember where you changed a person's life or outlook?

Not necessarily a specific moment because it happens quite often, really. I believe things as simple as genuine conversation and connection with someone is quite enough to change one's outlook. Everyone has a voice to be heard and to have a conversation where both parties can express themselves and you find a common ground of sorts, it can change things. 

Stimulate your mind, broaden your horizon - where you can see from another person's point of view, yet feel your opinion is respected. In some cases, you find you can relate to people you'd never dream to.

You are having a dinner party and can invite any three people you want - alive or dead, famous or not. Who would they be and why?

J.K. Rowling, Kendrick Lamar and my mother, Roshone Williams. I believe these three have something in common: Perseverance. They have the ability to go on no matter the circumstances thrown at them. It's admirable. This may sound odd, but that alone makes me believe being in their company is of use to me. To converse and learn. They're reminders of perseverance and skill and I admire the will within them.

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