Festival brings people together despite cultural differences

Due to the long history of injustices faced by minorities in America, Diamond Bar High School senior Hilal Balik and two of her friends started a community service project in hopes of creating an online meeting event as a safe space for diversity. 

Balik and her friends put together the Road to Open-mindedness, Sonder and Empathy Festival. The online event in early August on Zoom had around 100 signups from people all across the country.

“Our festival is about bringing together people and creating conversation no matter race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or any other factors that unfortunately create rifts within our society,” Balik said via text.

The festival’s activities involved breakout Zoom rooms, allowing participants to get to know one another. Attendees also received packages in the mail, which included materials for activities such as candle-making, beads from other countries, and spices from around the world. The activities were chosen to create a connection between participants and different cultures. To help start discussion, participants were also given a set of personal questions to ask their partners.

“We hope that by having these discussions, our participants gain a new perspective on a way of life, break boundaries and stereotypes, or just have a good time with someone new,” Balik said.

In order to organize and fund the event, Balik contacted the Dragon Kim Foundation to receive the grant for activities that would allow her and her friends to start the project. The DKF is a program that offers community service grants to support students motivated to make a positive impact on their community. The grant Balik and her friends received for the ROSE Festival was $5000. In addition, the DKF offered mentorship and leadership training to help them with the project. Balik said that she learned of the foundation through the GLC page on the DBHS website. 

“[To apply for the grant], I had to go through an interview phase as well,” Balik said. “The whole process took around a month or so.”

In addition to the grant, Balik also had help from the DKF business mentor, Dan Pittman, who helped her with the logistics of the event.

“The entire DKF staff was extremely helpful and involved in making sure our event went smoothly as possible,” Balik said.

To promote the event, phone calls were made to different organizations to spread information about the event. More information was also posted on the festival’s Instagram page.

Balik also had her own inspiration for creating the festival. She believed that having her closest friends help her organize this event was valuable in promoting diversity and unity with the event because of their different life experiences.

“My co-founders and I all have different inspirations for the festival but I think for me, it was a series of microaggressions that built up over time,” Balik said. “I wanted the ROSE Festival to be a safe space where people could learn to understand one another better and create meaningful bonds instead of fostering tensions through misunderstandings.”