Last week, we partnered with Get Schooled, a foundation started between Bill & Melinda Gates and Viacom that uses entertainment, digital media and star-power to empower and prepare students to graduate high school and make it to college! Our Founder, Usher, just happened to be in NYC to speak at the American Justice Summit and launch his new social justice video, Chains, in conjunction with Art for Amnesty, so we devised a sneaky plan to have him, our own Global Ambassador of Youth, James Harris, and a few UNL New York Academy leaders surprise middle and high school students at the School for Human Rights in Brooklyn with an impromptu leadership teaching and conversation on social justice.
The students had no idea we were coming! In New York, this was the week of Regents exams, which is statewide required testing high school students must pass in order to graduate. Administrators at the school selected two groups of 50 students based of merit to attend the “surprise”. Students came in two sessions; first the middle school students and then high school students after they were dismissed from testing. With his usual high-energy, crowd-riling antics, James Harris kicked off each of the sessions, but still not telling youth why they were there.
James started with the four corners game, a staple activity from UNL’s Powered by Service curriculum. The activity is simple. Students learn to take a stance on issues and use their voice by responding “I agree”, “I strongly agree”, “I disagree”, and “I strongly disagree” to particular statements. At first, James started out with the easy stuff. “I believe that Rihanna is a better singer than Beyoncé,” and “I believe that Drake is better than Meek Mill.” Then we took it up a notch. “I believe racism still exists,” and “I believe police brutality is a real issue.” Students had to defend their opinions each time, learning to make educated statements that support their beliefs.
Following this, James had the students return to their seats to talk about the history of UNL, who we are and what we do. He taught them what it means to be Powered by Service, to use your “spark” to create change, and used Usher’s new Chains video as an example. Then Usher walked in and you can imagine, the students went absolutely crazy.
But we we’re back on topic in no time. Usher chimed in the conversation, explaining for the group what it means to be a “disruptivator”, our new word at UNL for leaders who disrupt norms with their innovative ideas. Disruptivators are Powered by Service, because they use their spark to create the change the want to see in the world, which segued us to the next activity: Exploding the Issue!
Usher and James asked students to identify real issues in their community, then brainstorm the root causes and effects in order to determine solutions. We talked about issues like racism, gang violence, lack of education and global warming. Then we came up with small actions we can take to make a difference.
At the end of the sessions, we opened it up for questions. One student asked Usher if he was every bullied and how he dealt with it. It told the students he was and he handled it by avoiding haters and surrounding himself with better people.
Overall, the sessions were extremely inspiring for the students, Usher, James, UNL leaders and even the teachers at the School for Human Rights. Stay tuned for video coming soon!
We can’t wait to partner with Get Schooled again in the future. Soon we will be launching a UNL Powered by Service badge on www.GetSchooled.com. All students, no matter their affiliation with UNL, will be able to earn the badge on their site by participating in a virtual scavenger hunt with Usher on the site. In the meantime, create your account and check out what they have to offer. Lots of FAFSA and scholarship resources!