Helping Students Become Civic Leaders

Andrew Amore • Principal Leadership Article

As we settle into the second half of this school year—the third of the COVID era—our students, educators, and school systems continue to face many challenges. Wealth inequality, voter suppression, health-care injustice, and climate crises are just a few of them.

Despite these challenges, one of the great gifts of America is our democracy and the opportunity for new leaders to emerge. Through our representative government, we the people have the power to tackle these immense problems. As Americans, we have the power to change our country in meaningful ways via the ballot box, by rallying our collective voices, or by giving the ultimate sacrifice of our lives. Throughout history, progress in America has almost always been spurred on by the voices and actions of our youngest citizens.

Young People Making a Difference

In their early twenties, Diane Nash, John Lewis, and many others risked their lives to organize the Nashville Sit-Ins, which successfully led to desegregated downtown lunch counters. These young people exemplified how sustained, nonviolent civic engagement can change policy and the world. Soon after the events in Nashville, four African American students in Greensboro, NC, led a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. They endured the refusal of service, racial epithets, and threats of physical violence until the lunch counter was desegregated. In 1957, nine African American students simply trying to attend all-white Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, AR, faced an angry and riotous mob. Undeterred by the chaos and the hatred, they persevered and were finally able to attend the school.