ANTIOCH -- Civil rights are everyone's rights.
That is one of the messages on display at a new room at Antioch High School that aims to teach social justice and give students an inviting space to discuss issues they may have about race and culture.
"(The room) brings people together to have conversation, about differences and how we're common and to cherish each other's God-given talents," Principal Louie Rocha said during Tuesday's unveiling of the new Civil Rights Non-Violence Tolerance Education Social Justice Center.
Formerly an unused art room, the center is the brainchild of Tim Manly, Antioch High's head of site security and a 1978 graduate of the school.
Its main feature is a colorful mural on one of the walls created by renowned Pittsburg artist Ronald McDowell, a friend of Manly's.
The mural, which McDowell created with just a paintbrush in four days, depicts those who have made a difference around the world, nationally and locally, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Gov. Jerry Brown, district Superintendent Donald Gill and Mayor Wade Harper, along with words such as "unity," hands shaking and the Antioch High panther.
The center also includes flags from different countries strung from the ceiling, posters with civil rights messages and sayings and various cultural displays.
"There will be different dialogue, different ethnicities, different genders, that will come into this room and be able to express things where we can bring a togetherness and community for the school here," Manly said.
Sophomores Jenna Wallace and Ashley Johnson, two of the students in the Leadership and Social Justice Academy who helped create the displays, said many students tend to stay within their own groups of friends. Their hope is the room becomes a way for their peers to branch out and learn about diversity.
Rocha points out that Antioch is far more diverse than when he and Manly went to Antioch High in the late 1970s.
"We've gone from a rural to a much more urban community, and we have to be able to meet students where they are at and learn and grow together," Rocha said.
The room will be put to use right away.
U.S. history classes will be visiting its Cesar Chavez exhibit, put together by Carmen Ochoa and her nonprofit, Give Always to Others & Company, on Wednesday and Friday as part of the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum. School staff and students will participate in a diversity training Thursday sponsored by the National Coalition Building Institute.
Antioch High will use the room throughout the year for group discussions, support groups and peer mediation training, Rocha said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.