By PK Dauer
This year, across America, students found their voices and they rang out loud and clear, sending out a powerful message from their hometowns to Capitol Hill and The White House: the violence has got to stop, not just in schools but in every aspect of American life. For teachers, the challenge is how to keep that sense of purpose alive and engaged during the summer months.
Students want to have an impact on their world. And they can, when they are given the inspiration and the opportunity to channel their idealism and energy into action. This is where teachers can play a vital role in galvanizing the next generation of social change leaders and global citizens.
Thanks to a successful partnership between Hearts on Fire and Skype in the Classroom, teachers can bring dynamic individuals from the social change sector into classrooms via Skype in order to inspire students and change their perceptions about the impact one person can have on the world.
The Speaker Series is part of Hearts on Fire's Educational Initiative launched in 2016 in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, with the goal of helping students identify their own inner fire to #BeTheSpark and make a difference in their own communities.
As Massachusetts teacher Elise Higgins-Steele put it, “Kids love to learn. They love hearing about issues and people across the world – what it means to be in the world… and grappling with their own identity.”
Speakers are chosen because they have compelling stories to tell about the events and influences that shaped them from childhood, about who or what inspired them to become involved in social change, and the steps and missteps in their quest to improve the lives of others, whether in their own community or far from home.
Speaker Jimmie Briggs found his social conscience stirred as a journalist reporting from war zones where he witnessed, firsthand, children turned into hardened soldiers and violence against women and girls that was brutal and commonplace.
“I internalized some of the worst stories imaginable,” Jimmie says. “It had taken a toll on my soul.”
It also compelled Jimmie to ask himself “What can I do with my life?” The answer that came to him was Man Up… a global initiative which he founded in 2009 to stop the violence against girls and women.
Worldwide, gender-based violence is the leading cause of death and disability for women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four. Nearly 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide alone. One in five college girls in the United States reports being sexually assaulted. And, globally, one out of three girls reports being sexually abused.
That was unacceptable to Jimmie who has always valued the women in his life. He was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, among women who loved him and expected him to be good, and to be successful.
“My mother, my grandmother and great-grandmother challenged me to carry myself with dignity and love.”
That wasn’t always easy to do. He was one of the few African-American students in his predominantly white Missouri community. He endured a lot of taunting and racial epithets that would influence his work years later as a writer at Life Magazine, telling stories of children in crisis, gang culture, and the impact of urban violence on innocent children.
“I recognized where my heart was focused--on the lives of the voiceless and people who are not always respected.”
Man Up uses a S.M.A.R.T approach to addressing gender-based violence, engaging youth in Sports, Music, Arts, Reflection and Technology. It provides innovative training, resources and support to youth-informed initiatives with the goal of building a network of young champions and defenders of gender equality, gender inclusiveness and opportunity and linking their efforts to those of community-based and mainstream organizations, entertainment and sports communities, non-profits and corporations towards a common cause.
“It’s a youth-led movement,” says Jimmie, “because it’s about a cultural change; about how men define what it means to be a man.”
It’s been almost ten years since Jimmie founded Man Up and its work against gender-based violence continues under new leadership. Jimmie has resumed his work as a writer, reporter and speaker. But his commitment to the mission of Man Up remains strong and deeply personal because he wants a world that is safe for all women and girls, including his own daughter.
“Sometimes when you see something wrong in the world,” he says, “you can’t look away—sometimes you have to stand up.”
That’s exactly what tens of thousands of students did this year in their nationwide protests against gun violence. For teachers who want to build on that beginning, in addition to the Speaker Series, the team of Hearts on Fire and Facing History and Ourselves, offers teachers another tool to keep that passion for leadership and change burning.
The Hearts on Fire Teacher’s guide, written by Daniel Braunfeld of Facing History and Ourselves and Jill Iscol of the IF Hummingbird Foundation, is designed for students ages 10-24, inspiring them to become critical, engaged, and active citizens who choose to participate in bettering their own communities and others around the world.
Connect with one of our incredible Hearts on Fire Speakers here!