NYSUT's social justice mission includes exploring ways in which educating students about human rights can be starting points for change. Here are just a few examples of what NYSUT members are doing:
Reaching troubled youth
Teachers at Passages School in the Bronx run literacy programs for incarcerated students. The youth, many of whom had been living on the streets, learn how to write, tell stories and express their emotions through poetry.
In February, the president of Uganda signed an anti-homosexuality bill into law. The law mandates prison sentences of up to life in prison for same-sex relationships or even same-sex touching.
Lessons addressing this issue can be planned with information about human rights defender Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Mugisha won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award (http://rfkcenter.org/2011-frank-mugisha) and the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for his activism. He is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella organization that includes Icebreakers Uganda, the support group Mugisha founded as a college student.
NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler, who oversees social justice issues for the union, met with two young LGBT Ugandan refugees at Freedom House in Detroit, a temporary home for survivors of persecution seeking legal asylum in the United States and Canada. The young refugees had fled Uganda after being disowned by families and feared mob violence. "This 21-year-old girl would've been stoned in the street and her family would've participated," Cutler said. NYSUT supports the efforts of Freedom House.
Spanish teacher Diana Zuckerman, a member of the Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and School-Related Professionals, is using her Spanish class to broaden students' knowledge of human rights.
Zuckerman showed students a movie about Cesar Chavez, a civil rights and farm workers' advocate who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America. The students also learned about NYSUT's work with the Immokalee farm workers in southwest Florida. Part of the union's social justice mission is in support of grassroots movements and workers' rights.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has successfully urged major tomato buyers, including Taco Bell and McDonalds, to participate in a Fair Food Program, where they agree to pay workers a penny more per pound for tomatoes to increase the sub-poverty wages; and buy produce from farms where there is zero tolerance for forced labor, a worker can file a complaint if sexually harassed, and owners provide on-site health and safety training, particularly essential in an industry where workers are exposed to pesticides.
Currently, the CIW campaign is focusing on Wendy's fast food restaurants. For more information, visit www.ciw-online.org.
For more examples of NYSUT's social justice work, visit www.nysut.org/resources/special-resources-sites/social-justice.