Middle school students SOAR to combat racism

Frederick H. Tuttle seventh-grader Yorda Gebreselasie photographed the Flynn event for the school paper.

Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School’s Students Organizing Against Racism (SOAR) is an organization open to all students. Meeting weekly to discuss issues and engage in dialogues about race, the group is student led along with social studies teacher Christine Nold and co-advisors Gary Russell, Jeff Novak and Carol McNair.

“Our agreements are speak your truth, expect and accept non-closure, experience discomfort and stay engaged,” said seventh grader Simon Russell. “I think the most important one is to speak your truth.”

Eighth grader Giulia Gennari said, “SOAR is a very informational group and it can help you learn so many things and push you out of your comfort zone to make a difference, which I think is a great thing.”

This year, each student in SOAR was provided a copy of “March: Book One” by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. The book was donated by educators from across the country.

On Oct. 8, 60 students and four staff members attended a student matinee at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington. The Vermont Humanities event featured a visit with the Congressman and co-author who spoke about their lives and their inspiration to write the award-winning graphic novel about the civil rights movement.

“It’s just inspiring because what he did had such a big impact on the world,” Gennari said. “The way he encouraged us to do even the little things – little or big, you can make a difference. It starts with you and then you get others involved. He wasn’t judging how big your impact was, he was applauding you for trying to make a change for the better.”

A piece of particular advice stood out for seventh-grader Simon Russell.

“Definitely his quote that was ‘get into good trouble’ – for the sit-ins and peaceful protests… it means to me that it is necessary trouble, that what you are doing is right, even though you got into trouble for it.”

Sixth-grader Niara Wijetunga said of Congressman Lewis, “I thought he was very inspirational, and I liked how he referenced the climate change strike. That made me feel a connection with him because I was there.”

One of the highlights of the talk at the Flynn was how comic books and graphic novels are a powerful way to document historical events.

“It took bravery to put his whole life out there,” Gennari said. “Any time you are sharing anything like that, it can be hard to let the world in.”

By Elisabeth Bickford Wells, Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School PTO

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