Arroyo High School students reflect on their life experiences to cast a bright light on the different Americas of our time

May 2021

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

On April 14th juniors of the Arroyo High School Future Leaders of Social Change Small Learning Community presented their virtual Town Hall inspired by their learning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The theme of their Town Hall is “The America I Know.”  The student moderating the Town Hall explained, “While we may all be Americans, we all live in different Americas.”

I hope you’ll take some time to watch this video of the Town Hall. I found, as I hope you will, too, that each of the segments brings attention to one or more aspects of the challenges that these beautiful youth face. To me, these challenges are like those being faced by people of all ages across the country, and which we see before us every day in the news, whether because of skin color, religion, gender, gender identity, age, or insecurity about our self-worth. For example, Town Hall participant Nia Naidu spoke on, “Being a Black Woman in America.” Since watching this piece, I continually reflect on Nia’s plaintive request, “I want to know what it feels like to not be different!”

I asked the students if we at TWAICB could present their stories as a way to compel deeper thinking about the issues they raise, as well as to provoke reflective discussion to consider how to better address these issues in our immediate communities. They approved this request and noted that they wanted to do this presentation as their way of speaking up, so as to implore others to care and take action.

The following are questions we have sent to the students and their teacher to consider for their own follow-up to the Town Hall, and which we will be discussing with the students directly. Consider these as possible discussion topics in your family, friend, classroom or other community circles as a way to reflect on our own ways of relating to others different from us, and how we can be part of shifting our narratives and those of others to embrace rather than fear differences, as well as to embrace our fragile human-ness.

  1. Questions to Consider written on chalk board with question markWhat are major influences today, such as aspects of social media, peer pressure, books or other types communication that affect how you react to people different from you?
    • What information and/or experiences have most influenced you to value people who look or act differently than you?
    • What information and/or experiences have most influenced you to be fearful of others who look or act differently than you?
  2. What are the possible factors that would cause people to fear others because of their sexual identity?
    • How does a better understanding of these factors help us consider ways to communicate with others to help influence a shift from fear to acceptance?
  3. What are messages that ought to be communicated to foster valuing of differences rather than fearing differences?
  4. What are possible vehicles to communicate these messages within the school community?
  5. What are possible vehicles to communicate these messages to the greater public?
  6. What are possible ways, even with the challenges presented by COVID, to encourage more interactive discussions about the issues raised in each segment of the Town Hall?
  7. What is one small action any one person could take based on the discussion of these questions?

From the very start of TWAICB, the participating youth have been the inspiration to care more deeply about striving to make the UDHR Articles a reality for all people. When I asked Nia what about the UDHR prompted her to create her segment, she said, “After learning about the UDHR, I wondered if it was still relevant given that we don’t really experience any of it.” I remain hopeful that thanks to Nia, her classmates, and all of you reading this, we can continue, through our social justice advocacy, our civic engagement and care for each other as human beings, to work to meet the standards called for by the UDHR.

With appreciation and best regards,
Sandy Sohcot, Director

Featured Resources

Connecting to the themes presented in this newsletter, here are some additional resources.

Using the UDHR to Guide Positive Community Action | In early 2018 we published If You Get Confused, Listen to the Music Play, to offer perspective on how to focus on positive action even amid worrisome news.
Read more…

Part of furthering human rights and pursuing social justice is navigating complex and nuanced subjects. Social issues are multilayered and connect to deeply held beliefs and ideas, often generating strong emotions.
Read more…