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 students at the school. 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 this group was powerful and clear; change from the students for the students. A cultural change within Albany schools needed to be made, and the only people who could truly make that happen were young people. Students needed to hold peers accountable for hateful remarks. Students needed to invest in an inclusive and safe community for everyone. We knew that the task of changing a school culture was no small one. However, we knew where we wanted 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 and activism. 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 for the students. The feedback from teachers and community members has been outstanding, and continues to drive us to push further.
Speak is focused on presentations, but it is by no means the only thing we do. The group of high schoolers meets 2-3 times a week, discussing current events within the community and world. There is a focus on educating oneself, and being the best activist, and person, that one can be. Outside of group meetings, we also stay involved at the high school. We co-hosted 2 discussion forums for students regarding the topics of race and queer issues. We also helped organize the student walkout on 3/14 for gun reform, as well as a unity rally at the high school.
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.