For Educators: Interview with 2017 Kind Schools Challenge Winners ‘Your Story is Mine’
How do you go from a leadership class marked by division and distrust to a movement to bring people together around shared experiences?
2017 KIND Schools Challenge winners #YourStoryIsMine shared their story at Harvard Graduate School of Education's Alumni of Color Conference—and we took the opportunity to sit down with students Alan McCullough, Felton Morrel, and Christopher Wright, their teacher Amy Donofrio, and their mentor Jay Harris to learn more about how their project has evolved over the past year and what their hopes are for the future.
What has been the most surprising outcome of your KIND Schools Challenge project so far?
Alan: Simply winning the KIND Schools Challenge and the recognition alone was huge. The city celebrated and our story has changed the way Jacksonville, Florida talks about youth. It has started to see that we can lead and make real changes.
Chris: We made a bulletin board and after we had shared our stories other kids in the school shared their stories. It was surprising to see how many other students had hard life experiences like the ones we had. It made us feel like we weren’t alone with these problems and that others shared similar difficulties.
Felton: It’s amazing that people at Harvard will come and listen to our story.
Jay: Bravery—especially watching from the outside in. I don’t think we’d have the ability and vulnerability to share the stories they have and lead in this way at their age.
Tell us about a moment when you knew your work was having a positive impact on your community.
Alan: When we met the mayor, the State Attorney of Florida, a U.S. District Judge, and other adults in positions of power—that’s when I knew we were having an impact.
Chris: There were fights at our school and people were always angry with each other. But there were many kids who wanted to participate. People were able to place stickers on others’ stories in the hallway—there were lots of stickers and tons of interest. The amount of participation was amazing and that’s when I knew something was happening.
Felton: We knew our work was having a positive impact when the number of participants kept going up, and the work started to trend on Facebook.
What are you looking forward to most as you continue your work on the KIND Schools Challenge project?
Alan: I look forward to the expansion of the project and seeing all kinds of different schools use and create projects like this.
Chris: We want to push this out beyond our school. We’ve seen that this can help kids realize they aren’t the only ones facing the issues they have in life. And when people realize that, they start talking to the people next to them and get to know each other better, and that can really change a school.
Felton: I want us to be able to work with youth around the world… It’s motivating to see someone who looks like you making a change.
Amy: Other teachers have asked through social media how to do this in their schools, and that is exciting because I think it could work anywhere. It positively impacted the lives of our students, and I would love to see it happen in other places too. I want to help others make this happen.
What is one piece of advice you have for educators and students who are working to make the world more kind?
Alan: I would say the best piece of advice is to be close to your peers and be kind to them. Build close relationships and weather the ups and downs knowing that as a group, you’ll have both. Also, if you want to do something, do it right and stay focused.
Chris: Projects like this can really make a community more kind because when people become more vulnerable and share their story, others want to help and want to share their stories too. Remember your “why.”
Felton: Keep working hard and don’t forget why you’re doing this—to help people. Don’t let anything stop you from making a change for your community.
Jay: We have to show youth that they have value before we expect them to show us their value.
Amy: Make no mistake, you’re in a war. But despite that, you have to sacrifice daily, love relentlessly, and fight fearlessly.
To find out more, be sure to check out The EVAC Movement's TEDx Talk “At-Risk or At-Hope? How We Label Youth Matters,” check out their website, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Originally published March 2018.