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March 26, 2015 2

50 Years Later: Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe Towards Justice

Fifty years ago yes­ter­day Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. addressed a crowd of 20,000 peo­ple, many of whom had marched for a week from Selma to Mont­gomery, Alabama to advo­cate for vot­ing rights.  Their arrival was tri­umphant, after the first attempt had left the non-violent marchers blood­ied and beaten—but not defeated—by police offi­cers in Selma two-and-a-half weeks before. As he stood on the steps of the capi­tol build­ing in Mont­gomery and reflected on the jour­ney of the civil rights move­ment, Dr. King rhetor­i­cally asked, “How long will it take?” and famously answered, “Not long, because the arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends towards justice.” martin-luther-king-jr

As with any long arc, it is almost impos­si­ble to see progress from up close.  Each small, incre­men­tal change seems insignif­i­cant from that van­tage point.  Yet tak­ing a step back and look­ing at the tra­jec­tory over the past 50 years reveals how every small step has con­tributed to bend­ing the arc just a lit­tle bit fur­ther towards justice.

Today, the United States has the first African Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and there are almost seven times as many African Amer­i­can elected offi­cials as there were in 1970, when researchers first began track­ing the num­bers. The 2012 elec­tion marked the first elec­tion in which African Amer­i­cans voted at a higher rate than whites.  None of that would have been pos­si­ble with­out the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965, which in turn would never have come to be with­out the tire­less, daily efforts of count­less indi­vid­u­als.  From the Free­dom Rid­ers who risked their lives to reg­is­ter vot­ers, to the peo­ple who fear­lessly faced police offi­cers with billy clubs and tear gas on the Edmund Pet­tus Bridge, to the advo­cates who lob­bied for pas­sage of the bill and the lawyers who argued in court for it to be upheld, each had a small part in bend­ing the arc.

In other areas of civil rights, too, each incre­men­tal step seems small up close but con­tributes to the greater tra­jec­tory.  Today, as the United States hope­fully stands on the eve of mar­riage equal­ity for all, it is clear that many small steps com­bined to get us here.  From the pro­test­ers at Stonewall to the seven cou­ples who brought a case in Mass­a­chu­setts that would ulti­mately make it the first state with mar­riage equal­ity, from the mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity who came out when it was very dif­fi­cult to do so to their allies who spoke up and spoke out about LGBT rights, each per­son and action had a small part to play.  In the area of women’s rights, the women who con­vened a meet­ing in Seneca Falls to write the Dec­la­ra­tion of Rights and Sen­ti­ments, the suf­fragettes, the women who had careers long before it was socially accepted, those who coura­geously came for­ward to speak about sex­ual harass­ment, and the men who sup­ported equal pay for equal work all put small cracks in the glass ceil­ing.  Together, all the advo­cates, activists, allies, and peo­ple who sim­ply spoke up played a part in bend­ing the arc.

The lessons of Selma are about secur­ing the fun­da­men­tal right to vote for all and civil rights more broadly.  But they are also about what can hap­pen over time if each per­son plays a part in advanc­ing civil rights, speak­ing up for social jus­tice, and mov­ing the ball for­ward just the tini­est bit.  Fifty years after Selma, we are much fur­ther along the arc and much closer to a per­fect union, but each of us has a role to play every day in deter­min­ing the tra­jec­tory from here.

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January 7, 2014 2

Just Ask the Kids About Bullying

Youth are the real experts on what is hap­pen­ing in bul­ly­ing on school cam­puses, and yet their voices, per­spec­tives and lead­er­ship are rarely inte­grated into bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion programs.

Use stu­dent voices as a part of the solution

“Just ask the kids” is the tagline for a new book high­light­ing research from the Youth Voice Project, the first large-scale research project on bul­ly­ing and peer mis­treat­ment that did exactly that—ask the kids (more than 13,000 teens in 31 schools).  And when you think about it, isn’t it obvious?

For the nearly 25 years of imple­ment­ing train­ing and work­shops nation­ally with youth of all ages through ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Insti­tute, the stu­dents reg­u­larly echo the same sen­ti­ment. “Adults don’t under­stand.” And “No one lis­tens to us.”

For ADL, involv­ing stu­dents was a no-brainer and inte­gral to our work. Using stu­dent voices as a part of the solu­tion is a strength that schools every­where should be uti­liz­ing.  One exam­ple of that strength was high­lighted when four youths, all stu­dent lead­ers from Gris­som High School in Huntsville, AL, pre­sented on the impact of ADL’s No Place for Hate® cam­paign ini­tia­tive at the Inter­na­tional Bul­ly­ing Pre­ven­tion Asso­ci­a­tion Con­fer­ence.

Even more impor­tant than the specifics the stu­dents shared about the great work they have done in imple­ment­ing their No Place for Hate ini­tia­tive, the stu­dents pro­vided very thought­ful and impor­tant advice about what  adults can—and need—to do to bet­ter sup­port stu­dents in cre­at­ing an inclu­sive and wel­com­ing school culture.

More than any­thing, they said, stu­dents want the adults in their schools to be bet­ter role mod­els, and to take these issues as seri­ously as the stu­dents. We can’t ask stu­dents to make a com­mit­ment that the adults are not also making!

The Gris­som High School team looks for­ward to shar­ing this pre­sen­ta­tion at other fac­ulty meet­ings and venues.  They have also asked to be part of a group to review and revise their district’s anti-bullying policy.

And once you have stu­dent experts, THEY can help design and lead pro­grams for fam­i­lies.  Adult fam­ily mem­bers will come out more often when their kids have a role in a pro­gram, so it’s a great way to get par­ent and fam­ily involve­ment, and open that impor­tant dia­logue among fam­ily members.

It takes real, hon­est dia­logue among stu­dents AND adults to make last­ing and sig­nif­i­cant changes.

For more ideas about what stu­dents think teach­ers should know, check out ADL’s tips on 10 Things Stu­dent Wish Teach­ers Knew.

 

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