Inspires Today’s Future Teachers
By Tim Walker
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington last summer, NEA and Black Youth Vote! hosted Our Voices, Our Issues, Our Politics—a civic leadership and organizing training conference attended by more than 200 members of the NEA Student Program.
“[We wanted to] connect these past heroes—the activists who participated in the civil rights movement 50 years ago—to the leaders of tomorrow,” explains Merwyn Scott, director of NEA’s Minority Community Organizing and Partnership Department. “We need a new generation of student leaders to take up their mantle. What better way than for them to hear from their predecessors and be trained on how to campaign for social justice?
We wanted them to take what they learned back home.” Stephanie Terezon, a junior at Virginia State University and member of the Student Virginia Education Association, was in attendance. For three days before the commemorative event, she joined other participants in workshops designed to teach them to be more effective organizers and activists. Attendees learned how to participate in press interviews, brand campaigns, use social media effectively, and organize across states and counties.
Terezon says she was moved by the stories of Harvey Klugel, Gwen Fuller, and David Paull, now-retired teachers who had attended the 1963 march.
“It meant so much for us to hear their stories,” Terezon says. “Their memories were so vivid. They took a risk to go to the march because they felt it was their duty.”
For Terezon, social justice activism is personal. She is passionate about issues like education funding and LGBT rights, but immigration reform hits closest to home. “At the march, it was great to see signs supporting the DREAM Act,” Terezon says, referring to the proposed federal legislation to give temporary residency—and therefore access to financial aid— to undocumented immigrants who completed high school and want to continue on to college. “I’m a strong and loud advocate for DREAMers because my brother is one. After twelfth grade, his education just stopped because he wasn’t eligible for in-state tuition rates. He had been in the public school system since third grade.”
Training made Terezon, “more comfortable inserting my personal story in my activism than I was in the past. I spoke to my representative in Congress and related to him what the DREAM Act would mean to me. And I was also able to return to my school and talk to other student members about how important our voice is on every issue affecting our [future] students. As future teachers, it’s our responsibility to speak up.”