A panel of "firsts" visited Desert Vista High School Thursday and shared their experiences growing up in an ever-changing and, at times, racially charged environment.

The six-person panel consisted of former educators at Arizona State University, the first African American elected to the Tempe City Council, and a former judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals who was also one of the first African Americans to graduate from the ASU College of Law.

In front of a crowded Dr. Joe McDonald Auditorium, the panel answered questions regarding race relations, educational and career advice and what it was like to grow up in the area 40 years ago.

One student inquired of the panel what needs to be done to improve racial relations.

"The most important thing is to be involved and to work with people because we all want the same things: clean and safe neighborhoods and a good education for our kids," Tempe City Councilman Corey Woods said. "It is important that you mix and talk to people with different backgrounds and don't just stay in your comfort zones."

Also part of the council was Mary Bishop, the first African American woman to hold an adjunct professorship position as ASU College of Education; Dr. Betty Greathouse, who in 1980, became the first African America assistant dean of the Graduate College at ASU; Earl Oats, a former business owner and one of the first African Americans to attend Tempe High School; retired Judge Cecil Patterson; and Dr. Fredrick Warren, one of the first African American homeowners in Tempe.

The goal was to present the history of the area to the students, DV Principal Dr. Anna Battle said.

"I believe that the content allowed our students to realize that our society has come a long way, but also, that there is always room for growth, for both adults and children," Battle said in an e-mail.

A question from a student about what it was like to grow up in Tempe in the 1960s and 1970s drew an answer that could be applied today.

"The major thing then was the major thing now: You had to be aware of what was going on around you," Oats said. "Democracy is based on an informed public. You still need to read and inform yourself."

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