South County Beat: Teen inspired to stand up for her beliefs

Last summer, at a camp in Maine that brings together teens from regions in conflict, Arroyo Grande High sophomore Joanne Crandall overheard a conversation during a soccer game.

A Palestinian player was urging the coach to pull another Palestinian player and substitute an Israeli instead.

“It was absolutely amazing. You heard, ‘OK, he’s stinking, you need to put in this kid who I am supposed to hate,’ ” Crandall said. The 16-year-old recalled such scenes from the Seeds of Peace camp, where teens from Israel, Palestine and Jordan worked to put aside their differences.

She came home motivated.

Months later, when an 11-foot cross was burned outside the bedroom window of a black teen in Arroyo Grande, Crandall was inspired to act.

“If I were in her shoes, I would be feeling so alone and just so isolated,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have dealt with it.”

So far, those responsible for the incident, which police are investigating as an arson and hate crime, have not been arrested. Arroyo Grande Police Cmdr. John Hough said Tuesday that police have no new information to release on the case.

Meanwhile, Crandall brainstormed and finally decided to write a short letter and create a petition, with a goal of getting 100 signatures from fellow students.

“As students of Arroyo Grande High School, we want you to know that we are deeply concerned about the inexcusable, heinous cross-burning that your family endured,” her letter read. “We, as the rising generation, are now, more than ever, inspired to promote the inclusion of all people in our lives and to celebrate the gift of diversity. We wish we could undo the cruelty that you have suffered; instead, we promise to use it as a wake-up call to oppose racism and other hatreds wherever their shadows begin to fall. We will be enlightened.”

Crandall approached her teachers and spoke in several of their classes. Some students had heard of the hate crime and were outraged and happy to participate. Others had somehow missed the news, and Crandall took the opportunity to enlighten them and share the country’s sorry history of cross burnings.

In a matter of days, Crandall had gathered more than 800 signatures from students, faculty and staff.

She sent them a few weeks ago to the Santa Maria-Lompoc Branch of the NAACP; from there, they were supposed to be given to the Arroyo Grande teen. It was unclear Tuesday whether the teen had received them.

“I just hope it helps her realize that we’re not going to tolerate that in the community,” Crandall said.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.