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Speak Truth to Power event

'Tolerance is not enough'

New York Teacher
A student addresses his peers
Jonathan Fickies

Joel Mercedes, a senior at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, performs for the group as Kerry Kennedy (right), the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, looks on. 

“We share the same vision … forget the divisions.” Joel Mercedes, a senior at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, delivered that message in an original rap song that echoed the theme of a Speak Truth to Power event at UFT headquarters in Manhattan on Dec. 12. 

Speak Truth to Power, a collaboration between Discovery Education and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights supported by the union, illuminates students’ and teachers’ roles in fighting human rights abuses and offers educational experiences and online tools to help them. 

Kerry Kennedy, the president of the advocacy organization named for her father, brought together former leaders of war-torn Yugoslavia and actor activists Katie Erbe (“Law and Order”) and Trevor Donovan (“90210”) to share personal stories about standing up for what they believe in with 120 students and their teachers from the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice; Long Island City HS; the Academy for Software Engineering; and PS 333, the Manhattan School for Children. 

Teacher speaking to student
Jonathan Fickies

English teacher Meredith Towne (standing) talks to her Academy for Software Engineering seniors at the event. 

“Every summer we train dozens of educators to teach concepts associated with human rights and social justice using the RFK Human Rights curriculum,” said Anthony Klug, a UFT special representative for the union’s High School Division. 

Mercedes’ teacher Amalia Schiff participated in a UFT theater camp for students and found it “so restorative. I’m really passionate about using theater as a tool for social justice to empower young people to use their voices.” Speak Truth to Power, she said, is “perfectly aligned to the mission” at Law, Government and Justice. 

PS 333 teacher Raphael Tomkin, who also attended a UFT summer training session, said the Speak Truth to Power initiative built on his school’s big Respect for All initiative. “We’re already a very inclusive com¬munity, and we want to continue that work and make it a foundation of our school,” he said. 

Both teachers foster in their schools the ideas promoted by the Speak Truth to Power speakers as they travel the world. 

“Tolerance is very important, but tolerance is not enough,” said former Serbian President Boris Tadic. “We have to respect each other.”