A series introducing the individuals who promote and lead the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ work.
When Melissa Politan participated in her first VCIC Project Inclusion program, she says, “I realized that this type of work is what I was put on this Earth to do.”
Since that initial experience with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities in 2010, Melissa staffed another Project Inclusion with her high school, and she has also served as a facilitator for four Connections Institutes and an Educational Equity Initiative retreat. From those experiences, Melissa says that she has “met some of the most amazing people who are willing to bring change to the world.”
Melissa is a Social Studies teacher at Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia. She was just honored by being named her school’s Teacher of the Year. Students know that Melissa’s classroom is an inclusive environment, for, as she noted, “I do not allow certain words in my room. I never thought this was a big deal until I saw how many teachers allow their students to use the words or use the words themselves.” She is also sponsor of the school’s Inclusive Club, a group that works to spread a message of respect through innovative programs like a “Free to Be Me” campaign that allowed students to write about their diverse identities in the school newspaper.
Melissa’s work is truly a lifelong commitment. She closes with this reflection: “My senior year [of high school], the KKK had a rally on the court house stairs in the neighboring town. I never could understand why people hate others simply because of the color of their skin or their religion. I knew that I had to move away because I did not want to be around so many closed-minded people. Now, I have an opportunity everyday to educate people.“