For the 30th time since formal adoption in 1986, America paused on the third Monday in January to reflect on the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The struggle for social justice has outlived Dr. King, but has been irrevocably shaped by his commitment to peaceful change. Dr. King’s legacy continues in the United States, but there are also educators all around the world building upon his legacy of peace to continue bending the moral arc of justice in the right direction.
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Implemented by the GM South Africa Foundation, the Peace Promoting Schools Project takes a holistic approach to build a community of young adults with the skills to resolve conflict peacefully, think critically, and function effectively in groups. The program supports schools as they incorporate Peace Education into their curricula, encourages students to design and implement their own peace projects through facilitator guides and resources, develops peer mediation groups, peace clubs, and more. There is a direct line that runs from the compassionate determinism of Dr. King to the transformative Nelson Mandela, and this program is working hard to make sure that South Africa’s next generation continues this legacy of peaceful progress.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
The School of Leadership Afghanistan, or SOLA, the first boarding school for girls in Afghanistan, blends its comprehensive curriculum with advocacy for national education improvement programs. SOLA students supplement basic subjects with leadership training, civic engagement, and skills-based classes that prepare them to excel at institutions of higher education. The SOLA model spans three chronological and goal-oriented stages: First, SOLA students attend classes on English literacy, numeracy, global affairs, and begin social justice projects in the community. Second, recognizing the limitations of secondary and post-secondary educational opportunities amidst a still-violent Kabul, students are supported academically, financially, and personally while they complete higher education abroad. And third, after completing undergraduate and/or graduate programs abroad, SOLA students return to Afghanistan to become the change they desire and assume leadership roles across the country’s public, private and civil sectors.
"It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for many months."
The Modern Story is an education organization in India that recruits talented college graduates from the United States to lead 6-month programs teaching low-income students in the city of Hyderabad. The curriculum emphasizes a commitment to social justice, as well as skills in creativity, digital literacy, English language practice and more. Students learn how to write creative nonfiction, produce photo stories, oral histories and mini documentaries, all based on topics that are critical social issues in their communities like “Being a Girl in India” and “Environmental Protection.” TMS students investigate their chosen issue by conducting interviews with community members, and then produce a video that includes factual information and opinions from students and the public. In executing their projects, students learn important 21st century skills while furthering the understanding or advocacy of issues about which they care deeply.
"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
The Student Leaders Understanding My Slums program, or S.L.U.M.S., takes a word with traditional connotations of hardship and disenfranchisement, and flips it on its head. The project, supported by The Supply, works within informal settlements, and contributes to curriculum reforms and teacher trainings. The project incentivizes civic engagement and trains future leaders in political participation, political and social mobilizing, and social justice. These students participate in direct service projects, research projects, or advocacy projects to address challenges in their communities that they themselves identify.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Gender stereotypes about girls and education are a significant constraint to female retention and transition rates in schools. In the same way that Dr. King recognized the immense potential of a committed, and peaceful community, the Promotion of Girls Education (PROGE) project in Malawi have found that their most effective way to overcome these gender stereotypes is to develop what they call a Social Mobilization Campaign Model. This model provides girls with a network of peers, family members, and other female role models to encourage the girls in their pursuit of education. This network is grown from outreach into local communities, leveraging trainings, relationship building, and other incentives to mobilize teachers, village heads, SMC/PTA, mothers' groups, initiation counselors and more. Alone, the odds for a quality education are stacked against a girl in many of these rural communities in Malawi. But empowered as a group, these girls and advocates are proving to be a powerful force.
The words of Dr. King have echoed from the moment they were spoken, and reverberate still. There are often times when it seems like the quest for justice is hopeless, or that preventing retrenchment is impossible. Luckily, one can look to educators like those listed here (and scores more), for an encouraging reminder of our progess towards Dr. King's vision.
Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.
Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz