Students at local high schools are making some serious noise by studying a new subject: social justice. From civil disobedience to peaceful protests, students have been speaking out against unfairness and oppression in our society. From racial discrimination to ageism, youth around the city of Chicago have begun to fight valiantly in their communities, against large corporations and even the government.
My high school has made it its mission to teach students to challenge what their society presents to them. Uplift Community High School in Uptown has incorporated the idea of social justice in their daily school lessons. Uplift itself is a story of social justice. Before 2003, the only high school in the Uptown area was Senn High School. Three noble teachers wanted to change that, so that local kids and kids from other areas in Chicago would have a safer and better alternative. Thus, Uplift Community High School was born.
In the past few years, students have held protests on controversial subjects like Christopher Columbus Day and the proposed CPS budget cuts. Just last year, my class and I were assigned to take on the challenge of exposing one of the biggest corporations in the world. We informed our families, local community officials, and residents of Uptown about the unfair wages of employees at Wal-Mart. With the help from some help from our social science teachers, we developed a YouTube video telling shoppers to avoid Wal-Mart on their busiest day of the year: Black Friday.
We knew that the idea of a simple YouTube video wouldn’t stop the millions of Americans who shop at Wal-Mart on a daily basis; they just wanted to bring awareness to Wal-Mart’s injustice. Participating in this video project made me feel as if my voice is being heard. Many of the comments on the video were positive. They said encouraging things that made me feel that we have done right by bringing this injustice to the light. Amanda, one of the “stars” of the video, said, “I never would have thought about protesting my family’s favorite store… but it just made me so angry how Wal-Mart has been getting away with this. Enough is enough!”
This year, Uplift teamed up with the community to form a peace march with CeaseFire, an organization that’s trying to put an end to violence. We marched all over the Uptown community to take a strong stance on the number of teen deaths in the year of 2011 alone. Many speakers and organizers repeated the line that still inspires students to this day: “A change is gonna’ come.”
Uplift is just one of many schools that are beginning to challenge what they see in their community. Schools such as Whitney Young, Little Village, and Michelle Clark are all in this idea of social justice. Some educators would call teaching social justice unethical, but a former teacher from Uplift, Mr. Haines, once said, “Don’t let the ignorance of other’s deter you from your goals. We have a messed up world to fix, and it starts here, today, right now!” Currently, Mr. Haines is in Ethiopia creating a children’s foster home to ensure the wellbeing of homeless children. He is a living representation of what it means to be socially just - to help out anyway we can. He has inspired me and my many other students to do what we can for others. Now there’s a subject in school that sends a powerful message - without needing a textbook!