Sometimes “courage” is finding the inner strength to raise a hand in a crowded school assembly – as one student at the Beacon High School in New York City pointed out Monday.
And, sometimes, courage is much, much more, especially when it takes the form of individuals risking arrest to fight for the rights of impoverished indigenous people in a rural Mexican village, or using the courts to uphold anti-discrimination laws and battle anti-gay bullying in schools across the country.
Students at Beacon HS, a high-achieving school in mid-town Manhattan where students are required to devote at least 50 hours a year to community service, examined the many parameters of courage through the lessons of two “defenders” -- part the Speak Truth to Power curriculum developed through a partnership between NYSUT and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi and Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late attorney general and former New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, took turns challenging students to look within and define – and re-define – what courage means in their everyday lives.
Iannuzzi pointed out the Occupy Wall Street movement, for example, didn’t start “in a rural field” but in New York City and other urban centers, where students and other activists used their power to speak up and speak out against economic inequality. He told the students, “The future depends on you speaking truth to power.”
In introducing two defenders – Abel Barrera Hernandez, winner of the 2010 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for his work with the indigenous Mexican population, and anti-bullying activist Jamie Nabozny – Kennedy said the two shared a common trait. Both, she said, “wanted to change the world they live in. They found the courage in themselves and used it to make the world better.”
Nabozny, with the help of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, won a landmark federal lawsuit against school administrators in his home state of Wisconsin who failed to stop anti-gay bullying in his school. Nabozny, the subject of a documentary produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, now speaks in schools across the country about the destructive nature of bullying.
Nabozny told students that if they are aware of bullying – or even homophobic comments or slurs – they have a moral and ethical obligation to do something. “Will you be one of those who stands by and watches? Or will you be one of those who has the courage to stand up and say, ‘That’s not right?’” Nabozny said. “You must find the courage to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”