BRADENTON -- An international art exhibit featuring inspirational quotes from local students, and counterparts from around the world, all promoting a common theme, will be unveiled at 5 p.m. Friday on the Bradenton Riverwalk.
Embracing Our Differences, an exhibit featuring 30 billboard-size images with quotes, will make its debut at at the Riverwalk Pavilion.
The Riverwalk exhibit will feature artwork and quotes from 43 schools in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. More than 4,000 entries were submitted from more than 52 countries for the exhibit.
"The biggest difference this year was somehow some way we became a hit in Iran, and we had 50 submissions from Iran," said Michael Shelton, executive director.
One young resident will have his own inspirational quote featured with the art.
"When you exclude someone, you exclude an opportunity," 11-year-old Noah Font wrote for the exhibit.
Noah, a fifth-grader at Palma Sola Elementary, was
asked in his gifted class to think of a quote about embracing differences to enter in the competition.
"I was brainstorming," Noah said. "I thought of it in my mind and put it down on paper."
Noah has a strong opinion about the subject.
"I think everybody should be equally treated the same and everybody can be a contributor in special things," Font said.
Font learned the importance of equality from his single mom, Margo Williams.
"I always thought it was important to teach my children to accept others even if they are different," Williams said.
Williams, a mother of three, encourages her children to stand up for those being picked on for being different.
She had not heard of Embracing Our Differences until she received the acceptance for her son's submission. She finds the organization amazing.
"It's phenomenal how it reaches so many people and is so diverse," Williams said. "It really achieves its goal."
Noah, who loves school and sports, was excited when he won.
"It feels pretty good that my quote won," Font said.
Embracing Our Differences is in its 10th year in Sarasota. An identical exhibit is coming to Bradenton and North Port this year for the first time.
The Embracing Our Differences art exhibit is also an educational program. The organization will distribute educational materials and provide transportation for student visitors all month along.
"I am beyond thrilled our school district is embracing this." said Laura McKeithen, with Realize Bradenton.
Shelton, part of the organization since day one, has been overwhelmed by the excitement Embracing Our Differences generated in Bradenton.
"We didn't want to be perceived as people from Sarasota trying to bring our beliefs to Bradenton," Shelton said, "This had to be something Bradenton wanted."
Shelton and fellow co-founders had a grand idea they could change the world, he says, when they started the program.
"We probably can't change the world and our community today but we may be able to tomorrow or next week," Shelton said.
They have started to realize the impact they are having.
"We don't try to teach people how to think, it's more about respect and respecting other people's beliefs and customs," Shelton said. "If we educate people then we give them an opportunity to learn about differences."
Following the unveiling, the Manatee County School Board will have an activity for children and a free concert featuring Dean Johanesen and the Human Condition will be held at the Riverwalk Mosaic Amphitheater from 6 to 8 p.m.
Embracing Our Differences will be featured along the Bradenton Riverwalk at the day docks, pavilion area, and kayak and canoe launch area from Easter Sunday to April 29.
Jessica De Leon, Herald Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter at @JDeLeon1012.