One by one, students at The School of Public Service stepped to a microphone Wednesday and introduced award-winning defenders of human rights from around world to their classmates – a fitting kickoff to a new human rights curriculum on social justice and human rights prepared by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and New York State United Teachers.
The lesson plans, available online at blogs.nysut.org/sttp, bring to classrooms around the state the passion of those who risk their lives for human rights, including six who visited the high school in Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with another special guest, Ethel Kennedy, matriarch of the Kennedy family.
Some of those passionate defenders – including a community organizer who helped low-income workers in the post-Katrina recovery; an outspoken supporter of democracy in Vietnam who was imprisoned for his efforts; and a public health worker from Haiti who fights the AIDS epidemic among her people and helped rescue orphans after last year's devastating earthquake – joined NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi and Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the slain former U.S. senator from New York, in introducing the lesson plans and discussing their own lives and the challenges they faced.
Iannuzzi told students at the public high school – one of the most successful in New York City – that the project is part of NYSUT's long-term commitment to pushing a strong social justice agenda.
"We hope this fosters the ability to create the next generation of critical thinkers who will, as Robert F. Kennedy said, 'speak up and speak out' and will, as these defenders of human rights did, 'speak truth to power.'"
Ethel Kennedy rose from her seat at the conclusion of the presentations to pay tribute to the defenders, but to also acknowledge the hard work of teachers and students at the school, which requires community service in addition to high academic achievement for graduation.
"It's incredibly moving. Seeing these students and what they're doing, and what their interests are, is mind-blowing," she said, turning to the class. "You're using all of your brains to make a better world. It proves the impossible can be done."