A great teacher once said: When a thought of hate is let loose in the world, it must be met by a greater thought of love. When an act of hatred is let loose, it too must be met by a greater act of love.

Such was on my mind when news came from Durham that three crosses were set ablaze in a vivid reminder of an ugly past and a present still tainted with the sin of racism. Hate, pure hate, coupled with ignorance this is.

But fate has many faces, and after the vigils and hand-wringing came the love-based action in the form of the Rose Garden Forum, a Chapel Hill High School initiative aimed at creating a physical and emotional space where students from all racial and economic backgrounds gather to vent their disgust with racism and classism and then discuss real-life solutions.

Stories of forum participants are riddled with tales of physical and mental abuse, alcoholism and racism, but also hope, creativity and determination. The idea is to fashion a conversation where perception shifts from a head-based understanding of issues to a heart-based one. As a result, many students find common ground and the power to become the change they wish to see in the world, as Gandhi would say.

Before the end, students who would never speak to each other are hearing each other out. This leads to understanding and in many cases, friendship; which leads to tutoring, which leads to closing the academic achievement gap that exists between students from disparate economic classes typically drawn along racial lines.

This forum works because it’s one thing for a rich doctor’s son to read a journal article about some poor kid’s lifetime of torment due to parental drug abuse and racist oppression. It’s another thing to hear the entire, sordid tale from the anguished, bitter, tearful student herself.

It’s one thing for a typically “good” student to want to tutor someone out of the goodness of her heart. It’s another to become personally invested in someone’s life as a friend through thick and thicker.

Such is the goal of the Rose Garden Forum, the brainchild of Sherlock Graham-Haynes, an advocacy specialist at CHHS who hails from the downtrodden streets of Jamaica not shown on cruise ads.

Though many report cards have improved, this is not about good grades. The guys at Enron got good grades. This is about character, morality and the abolition of racism and class-ism from the root up. It’s about giving students a voice they never knew anyone cared to hear. The Rose Garden Forum represents the fundamental shift in consciousness–from head to heart–society has always needed and always will for true change to transpire.

Bastards of the lowest sort showed their lack of quality in Durham last week. This act of hate captured the headlines. The Rose Garden Forum captures hearts. Which do you think will win in the end?