"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Thursday, October 8, 30 scholars from KIPP Polaris Academy for Boys flew to Washington, D.C. for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The five-day trip included two university visits, an exclusive tour of the Pentagon, and a visit to the National Mall monuments. The trip's focal point was the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March on Saturday, a time and a place to live history, hear the voices of justice, discover their roles, and learn how they can "be the change they wish to see in the world" today.
93% of KIPP Polaris students are economically disadvantaged. If this was the only fact we knew about them, we might think the odds were stacked against them. In fact, only 8% of Harris County's eighth graders have historically graduated from college. But these kids are not statistics, and their experiences reflect that.
They understand that the Million Man March was about togetherness, uniting in a common struggle to break the underserved racial lines that exist in today’s world.
Colbert Torry, Tremel Christian, Juan Diaz, and Christopher Lara were all interviewed about their experiences from the trip. Each student commented on the powerful diversity, unforgettable march, funny jokes, and favorite moments.
“Hearing Michael Brown’s grandmother and mother speak. They talked about the truth saying things happen but the solution doesn’t have to be a violent solution.”
“Definitely seeing the Pentagon. Our teacher’s family member gave us an exclusive tour that included seeing where the 9/11 plane hit. There were two underground levels that our tour couldn’t even see. The Pentagon is so cool. Did you know a country mistakenly thought there were missiles in the middle of the Pentagon but it turned out to be just a cafeteria? We learned that fun fact on the tour.”
“Seeing the march. I truly realized my actions can make a difference.”
“Everyone was interacting with each other. We got to know each other really well. If I wanted to order a pizza, everyone put cash in and we split a pizza.”
These reasons and many more were the responses given when students were asked what their favorite part of the Washington, D.C. trip was. They also shared stories of bathrooms, pillow fights, and pranks they shared. These were middle school boys after all.
March Takeaways from School Leader, AT Green:
Women as equals
Men were charged to treat women better, as equals and not as objects.
Seeing and hearing from the mothers of many young men of color who lost their lives at the hands of police resonated with the boys, especially since we took the time to have discussions about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin at school.
The need to work together
For the first 3 hours of the event, various leaders from numerous ethnic backgrounds were invited to speak. I, admittedly, was a bit nervous about how my Latino students might feel at the march; however, seeing and hearing speeches from Native American leaders, Mexican leaders, Dominican leaders, Haitian leaders, Central American leaders, African American leaders and politicians, my student felt welcome and included. Two of the speeches were given in Spanish with no translation. All of my Latino students perked up even more during these speeches.
Positivity is more than possible
I am not sure of the exact number of people who were present, but there were definitely hundreds of thousands of people—the vast majority were people of color. But there was no violence nor violent rhetoric. My students continuously commented on how “nice” everyone was. At times we were so close that it was impossible not to bump into strangers, but everyone was so helpful and supportive—this left a huge impact on my boys.
After returning home, each student participant spoke to their fellow students about what they learned from the experience.
“I hope students are inspired by what I said so they can give their best and go on the next trip,” Juan Diaz shared. “I want my experience to make a difference for everyone.”