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Students donate to SPLC, demonstrate commitment to social justice

Students from Brooklyn’s Mary McDowell Friends School used a readathon to raise donations for the SPLC, but the young students’ dedication to civil rights reaches beyond one fundraiser.

As SPLC founder Morris Dees looked on, a group of students from Mary McDowell Friends School named their civil rights heroes.

It was a familiar roll call: Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, John Lewis and others.

SPLC / Michelle Leland

But these students also demonstrated that the struggle for civil rights wasn’t just history to them. They named issues that are important to them today, such as ensuring equal rights for the LGBT community, women and others.

The students attend the K-12 Quaker school for children with learning disabilities in Brooklyn, New York. Last week, they traveled to the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama, to present a $10,000 donation to the SPLC – money the students had raised through a readathon.

They made the donation in honor of the late Julian Bond, the SPLC’s first president. Bond, a Quaker preparatory school graduate, was the Mary McDowell Friends School’s first graduation speaker.

“We appreciate your fight against discrimination,” student Scott Robbins said during the presentation, noting that the SPLC’s mission aligned closely with the school’s Quaker roots.

During the event, Dees reminded the students of their important role in continuing the march for justice. He referred to the Civil Rights Memorial outside the center, telling them to pay special attention when they look at the names inscribed on the black granite table, which is covered by a thin sheet of water flowing from its center.

SPLC / Michelle Leland

“What you’ll see is a reflection of yourself,” he said. “That reflection, I like to say, is you being involved in this whole movement together. Because if Julian was here with us today, he would tell us that the future of human rights and civil rights is in your hands. ”

These students appeared ready to accept that challenge. Robbins said they participated in the readathon even though reading does not come easily to many of the students with learning disabilities.

Beth Schneider, the associate head of the school, said she was proud of the social consciousness demonstrated by the students during their visit to historic sites in Montgomery. When students were asked at one site if there was a cause for which they, like the civil rights foot soldiers, would be willing to give their life, they named social justice issues.

SPLC / Michelle Leland

“They were thinking about the world,” she said. “And I thought to myself. That’s what this is about.”

Schneider said the school uses many of the free anti-bias materials provided by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project, including its documentaries on the civil rights movement and the Holocaust.

“Your materials have stood the test of time,” she said. “We’ve had them on VHS. We’ve worn them down. Now we have them on DVD, and we go to the website.”

Mark Doty, director of the upper school, or high school, at Mary McDowell, said visits to places such as Montgomery can provide students with a new and deeper perspective on civil rights history and the modern-day struggle for equality.

“We have a responsibility to take action [against injustice],” Doty said. “We can all be heroes if we do the right thing.”

SPLC / Michelle Leland