Upstanders: Strengthening School Community

Posted by Armen Menechyan on October 15, 2014

On October 11, 2014 at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools Campus, more than 15 schools and upwards of 120 students, teachers, parents, and administrators took the time on a Saturday to come together with one common goal: Strengthening school community.

Facing History Los Angeles hosted our 3rd Annual Los Angeles Partnership School Summit on School Culture. In our first year of this summit, we featured the film BULLY and looked at how small steps can make a difference for peers confronting bullying on campus. Last year we considered a short animated film from StoryCorps, Listening Is An Act of Love, to grow beyond just stopping bullying and consider how to build a positive school culture by small acts of compassion. This year, we continued to explore ways to build a stronger community by considering the steps of an "upstander."

César Chávez starring Michael Peña, tells the story of an American civil rights activist and labor organizer. By motivating and empowering a strong network of allies, Chavez nonviolently pursued his dream of guaranteeing living wages and better conditions for all farmworkers. This film provided schools the opportunity to look closely into the actions of an ordinary citizen who becomes an upstander, and it motivated and energized the Summit participants to start the process of making small but effective changes within their school communities.

After the film screening, school stakeholders - parents, teachers, students, and administrators - met with similar stakeholders from other schools to share their personal stories and experiences. I had the opportunity to sit down with parents whose activism and vision for change was both inspiring and motivational. What resonated most with me were the stories of how some of these individuals were directly and indirectly affected during the farmworkers' labor movement in the 1950s and 60s.

  • One participant told us his story of working in the fields as a five year old, his eventual difficulties of immigrating to the United States, and the repercussions and humiliations he has gone through as part of his immigration experience.
  • A mother in our group recollected and shared her memory of seeing the beautiful smiles from her parents when they came back home after a very long day in the fields. She mentioned that her parents never portrayed sadness in front of their children. There was an unspoken culture of never bringing the negativity and harshness of their work back home. In fact, she went on to share lyrics from a song, that originated by farmworkers in the field, whose words conveyed this idea.
  • A Guatemalan participant also made sure to give voice to the unjust treatment of indigenous peoples in Guatemala who worked in the fields. She was proud to be a part of a similar movement while she was a student at the University of Guatemala.

Tears and smiles accompanied our conversations, and we came to the agreement that if we put our differences aside and just got in touch with one thing that we all have in common, that we are all human, a stronger global citizenry could make constructive, rather than destructive, changes.. The parents and grandparents were extremely grateful to Facing History for providing this opportunity to the community.

IMG_0906[1]I was personally very grateful and lucky to be a part of these fruitful conversations, which gave me a new and fresh perspective on what it is to be American. Having been away from the country for six years, it was great connecting with participants of diverse backgrounds and realizing the rich culture that resides right here in Los Angeles. I believe all of the participants would agree with me when I say that those seven hours we all dedicated as a community will benefit and empower our students to be part of change, big and small, for their school communities.

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Topics: Safe Schools, Los Angeles, Urban Education, Upstander, Community Event, Parents

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