OUR ROOTS IN WINDSOR/ESSEX
When it comes to fighting for social justice in Windsor and Essex County, our roots run deep. With the Underground Railroad, giant Emancipation Day celebrations, strong auto unions and the first teacher strike in Canada, it’s no surprise that the High School Human Rights Forum started here in Windsor, Ontario in 1977. Originally organized by the Third World Resource Centre, Teacher’s Human Rights committee, Windsor Board of Education, Windsor Catholic School Board and the University of Windsor, the forum was officially hosted by Teachers for Global Awareness when it incorporated as a not-for-profit in 1990.
In 1987, I, Amy Tesolin, attended my first Human Rights Forum as a Grade 10 student. A shy, fifteen year old, I was impressed by this large group of diverse high school students gathered to discuss the current human rights problems. The energy was palpable. We participated in panel discussions, theatrical presentations and most importantly, workshops. It was in these hands-on workshops that I felt the power of my peers - the expression “future leaders” was an apt description of these students who were not afraid to share their thoughts, experiences and knowledge. The forum inspired us to take action in our community. As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The Human Rights Forum was a formative experience for me. There is no question that the energy I felt during those forums inspired me to become a life-long activist. It was time to take the torch and reignite in students a passion for social justice and activism similar to what was kindled in me so many years ago.
In 2006, I approached my colleague at Walkerville Collegiate, Deanna Fougère, who was also very involved in social justice work, to see if she would be interested in partnering with me to get the High School Social Justice Forum reinstated. We became the co-chairs of Teachers for Global Awareness and have had a variety of teachers and community activists come on board to bring the forum to the caliber it is today. In 2007, in partnership with the Centre for Studies in Social Justice at the University of Windsor, we hosted our first Annual High School Social Justice Forum with the theme of Media and haven’t looked back since.
The current Teachers for Global Awareness group has organized an Annual High School Social Justice Forum for the past eight years. Although similar in spirit, this group has formed partnerships with the Centre for Studies in Social Justice and the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor, invites more students (300+), more schools (over 20) and more school boards (3) to participate in a day-long event than was done in the past. The forum features a keynote speaker, challenging morning and afternoon workshops, panel discussions and a final wrap-up activity that promotes student activism.
The Annual Social Justice Forum encourages students and educators to engage in healthy, respectful dialogue, develop critical thinking skills, and learn about social justice issues concerning their local communities and abroad. When students and educators engage in social justice discussions it provides the foundation for healthy school communities.
We have had the privilege of welcoming renowned keynote speakers such as Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians), the Hon. Howard Pawley (Former Premier of Manitoba), and Danielle McLaughlin (Canadian Civil Liberties Association). Topics for workshops include: environmental issues, racism, homophobia, ableism, poverty, international issues and mental health. We are always looking for new themes and workshop topics, please share your ideas with us.
We want to hear from you!
HIGH SCHOOL SOCIAL JUSTICE FORUM THEMES TO DATE:
2014: Borders, Boundaries, and Belonging (Upcoming: Tues. February 18, 2014)
2013: Democratic Rights in the Age of Austerity
2012: Crime & Punishment
2011: Conflict & Resolution
2009: Water: The Global Flow of H2O
2008: Consumerism: Shop ‘Till You Drop: Your Role as a Consumer
BEYOND THE FORUM
Along with the annual forum, Teachers for Global Awareness has recently begun sponsoring student-led social justice projects for school communities (TGA grants) that were inspired by the annual forum. We are very interested in empowering students and inspiring in them a spirit of lifelong activism in their respective communities. Students for Global Awareness groups, Gay-Straight Alliances and Environmental groups have formed as result of this event.
For educators, we are looking to expand on our social justice forums and create opportunities to discuss and learn about topical social justice issues. Last year we had our first educator forum entitled, Kill the Bill: Why Repealing Bill 115 is Important for all Ontarians. We are currently working on creating workshops for educators that will help foster social justice dialogues and acceptance in their classrooms. Please feel free to send us suggestions on what issues are important to you.
For inspiration as teachers, we look to bell hooks, American author, feminist and social activist who said in Teaching to Transgress, “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy...I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions - a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom.” -bell hooks (1994)
Thank you for visiting us!