January/February 2020 Issue
January 06, 2020

Union leaders inspire the next generation of activists

Author: By Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
social justice committee
Caption: Members of NYSUT’s Civil and Human Rights Committee had a full agenda for the November meeting. Discussions included the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census, trauma sensitive schools, the union’s student debt relief efforts, immigration, ending child detentions, restorative justice and climate change. Far left, members of the committee. Left, NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham, who oversees the union’s social justice agenda, works with Debra Rothar, Half Hollow Hills TA, and Cordelia Anthony, Farmingdale TA. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

A child shall lead them. So the saying goes.

From Buffalo, to Albany, to the Big Apple, NYSUT educators and retirees take those words seriously, helping students learn the skills and information they need to make positive change in their communities and the world.

Oksana Kulynych, a United Federation of Teachers retiree, visits New York City-area high schools to educate students about the Holodomor Famine-Genocide of Ukraine, which took place 1932–33.

“Millions were deliberately starved to death under [Joseph] Stalin’s Communist regime in an effort to terrorize the Ukrainian population into submission,” said Kulynych, noting that until 1991, when the country won its independence, citizens were afraid to discuss the tragedy for fear of persecution. “The Holocaust was taught, but no one knew about what happened in Ukraine.”

Kulynych, former chair of the U.S. Holodomor Education Committee, strives to change that by ensuring that future generations learn about the Ukrainian genocide. “Education is key to preventing future tragedies like this from happening again,” she said.

Education — for youth and adults — is the catalyst for another human rights effort. A Western New York human rights program launched in 2008 has blossomed into a statewide initiative, thanks to the work of a committed group of Buffalo-area teachers.

The weeklong Academy for Human Rights (previously the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies) held at the Erie 1 BOCES Center in West Seneca, encourages high school students to become civically aware and engaged — locally, nationally and worldwide. Participants hear from human rights activists and historians, and take field trips to venues such as the Susan B. Anthony House and local refugee centers.

“The program really lights a fire in these students — I have students going into international law because of the course,” said Williamsville Teachers Association member Tim Redmond, social studies teacher and teacher conference program coordinator for the academy. Andrew Beiter, the academy exective director, is a social studies teacher and member of the Springville Faculty Association.

Past speakers include Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor and activist Elie Wiesel, and Carl Wilkins, former head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International.

Sessions on website building, speaking to school administrators and presenting ideas as short elevator pitches are important parts of the program. “We want to give students the skills they need to take action,” said Redmond. The academy also hosts teacher conferences.

A 501(c)(3) charitable education organization, the academy is a local and national award winner and has been recognized by C-SPAN.

In the decade since its founding, sister initiatives modeled after its program have started in Albany, Rochester and Pine Bush.


NYSUT is committed to social justice and has several resources available online. Visit nysut.org/ socialjustice.

Other resources:

NYSUT surveys members o