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Youth ‘responsibility’ march now a part of community’s future

  • Written by Tony Jones

StudentResponsonbility-600It's Saturday, April 20 and a throng of high school students, their parents and civic-minded citizens assemble to march and make a statement that area students have to step up their game to get a good education.

It could happen – and it will happen – if all goes according to the plan outlined Tuesday at the National Civil Rights Museum by Mayor AC Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr. Dorsey E. Hopson II, Esq., interim superintendent of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, joined them.

The mayors presented a proclamation naming the date of the march as "Student Responsibility Day." It will begin at 10 a.m. at City Hall and end in the museum's courtyard.

To start a buzz for the march, a Facebook video contest has been launched. Students have until Monday, April 8 to submit a two-minute (max) video completing this phrase: "As students, to make sure we receive a quality education, we are responsible for ..."

The winning entry will receive $500 and will be featured worldwide on the museum's website for a minimum of three days.

The march, video and peer-to-peer goal is to have students pledge and inspire their classmates to get to school and their classes on time, be prepared when they get there and fully engage in class and curricular activities.

"In the debate about the education system, we've heard the voices of the TPC (Transition Planning Commission), the school boards, the teachers and the mayors, but there is a voice that has been left out, the individuals that will be affected the most," said Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum.

"We are inviting young people from all across Memphis and Shelby County to participate in the march as a visible way to declare that they too accept a responsibility for their education."

Barbara Andrews, the museum's director of Education and Interpretation, linked the inspiration for the march to a crucial moment in civil rights history that was referenced in Teaching Tolerance Magazine (Spring 2005).

Here's how the magazine reference read:

"On May 2, 1963, the children of Birmingham, Ala., flooded the city's streets and the city's jail to challenge segregation. With dogs and fire hoses, police tried to stop them. Yet, in ways their parents could not, the children prevailed, defying the police intimidation that long had plagued Birmingham's black community."

Wharton drew upon his personal history to underscore the planned march's premise that city and county students are facing their own time to stand up for a fair education system.

"I remember when my friends and I wanted to go downtown to march at the Capitol Theatre," said Wharton. "My first cousin told us that his father had told him that his boss warned him that if he went, his job was gone and his father's job too. So it is so critical that we instill in today's kids that they must speak out and do something positive.

"This is their time to bring attention to the positive things they can do and that they have a role in getting a good education."

Craigmont High senior Kalema Taalib-din will serve as the student coordinator for the march. At the press conference, she literally stole the moment with her brief remarks and her bright personality.

Already accepted into American University, Taalib-din speaks with an Oxford professor's precision and an approachable Memphis tone. She discussed the reality that the march must reach and inspire not just the academics, but also the so-called "hoodie" and "diva girl" set.

"Yes, I have good friends from all over the spectrum," said Taalib-din. "I came from private to public school and everybody was like, 'Why are you talking like that?' But I just kept on being myself and pretty soon the people I would hang with started chilling on being themselves. Ideas come from everywhere."

Taalib-din is on the advisory board for TWEET (Teens Who Engage Equity in Tennessee), a statewide effort she explains is committed to being a game changer for how today's kids participate in their schools.

"TWEET was designed to tackle not only the climate side of going to school, like teasing and bullying and being a nerd – me! – but also to give students a stake and say so in what they learn in the classroom," she said.

Taalib-din said her goal and TWEET's goal is to start tackling barriers.

"The thing is, it's not just the 'smart students' that have ideas and make contributions, but they still don't want to step forward so much of the time because it's a nerd issue. But it's the nerds that grow up to run things.

"You're only holding yourself back if you don't participate in your school," she said. "It's time to stop being afraid and get yourself ready for your life, and nobody controls how much you can accomplish but you."

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