Speak was created in response to a hateful instagram account made by students at Albany High School. The account was discovered in March of 2017, and consisted of racist and sexist pictures targeting female students of color. This event shook the high school community to the core, leading to much justified pain and anger. Through that devastation, a group of determined and upset students gathered, ready to take action. From this group of students emerged an influential social justice group: Speak.
The sentiment of our group was powerful and clear: change from the students for the students. A cultural shift within Albany schools needed to be made, and the only people who could truly make that happen were young people. As students, we needed to hold our peers accountable for hateful remarks. We needed to invest in an inclusive and safe community for everyone. We knew that the task of changing our school culture was no small one. However, we knew where to start.
By the end of the 2016-17 school year we had written a pilot lesson (see lesson description page) and presented to 11 elementary school classrooms. The goal was to teach third through fifth graders about concepts of empathy and respect through education about prejudice and discrimination. We knew that working with younger students who were open and ready to learn would shape our future world to be a more fair and equitable one. These presentations were effective and inspiring for everyone involved. Having existed for only 8 short weeks, our group ended the school year with a clear vision of what we wanted to do, and the knowledge that we had the power to do it.
For the 2017-18 school year, we decided to focus our elementary school presentations on the fifth grade, visiting each classroom three to four times. Each presentation covered an important topic relating to social justice. Presentations discussed racism, sexism, the LGBTQ+ community, bullying, and much more. Our presentations are discussion and activity based, where presenters talk with their younger peers with the goal of both sides learning something new. Each presentation has a strong focus on empathy development and increasing a sense of social responsibility. The feedback from teachers and community members has been outstanding, and continues to drive us to push further. If you are interested in reading a more in-depth description of our presentations please visit the “Our Presentations” page.
During the 2018-19 school year we continued to build on the work we have already done. We edited our curriculum and led a revised version of these discussions to the fifth grade classrooms. We visited each classroom three times, completing 33 presentations in addition to the work we were doing at the high school level.
In Speak, we understand the need to approach an issue from many different angles. This means that we are involved in organizing at the high school campus as well. We host forums, lead rallies and protests—about gun reform and to contest the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, to name a few—and work with other activist groups on campus. At the core of Speak is a group of dedicated high schoolers that meet 1-2 times a week, discussing current events in our high school and larger communities. We view these meetings as a place to grow as individuals through our work as organizers. We are constantly looking to expand our involvement and make a larger impact.
Going into the 2019-20 school year we are ready to continue all of the work we have done in 5th grade and also add middle school discussions. These discussions will be optional, lunch time discussions for any middle schooler who is interested in taking and learning about social issues. We are excited about this new initiative and are in the middle of writing these discussions.
As a group, we understand the critical need to create a more inclusive and safer Albany community. We also know that our efforts within our community reach far beyond it. Each of our voices have the power to make a difference—make yours count.