Students have unique ambitions and perspectives that they often voice through school projects. From learning how to effectively work with others to how to prioritize and set goals, these skills have strengthened individual avenues of activism that will prepare them for the challenges ahead as they pursue a college degree and further their career.

In 2016, a class project for sophomores at Raleigh Charter High School explored the truths about North Carolina’s history, including a history of racism and violence. The group became The Freedom Struggle Committee (FSC), of which I’m a member, and is now comprised of current and former high school students committed to developing a memorial to serve as a permanent public acknowledgement to the victims of lynching in North Carolina.

Navigating Interpersonal Relationships

While high school courses can help students prepare arguments and practice public speaking, few courses prepare students for the difficult discussion around race relations. Creating a space for these conversations is vital to our work. Since FSC’s inception, students have learned to facilitate difficult dialogues, lest the gravity of these conversations get lost—because the change we seek cannot happen unless we are willing to listen, learn, and adjust.

Goal Setting and Engagement With the Community

The FSC’s goal is to establish a memorial to North Carolina’s victims of lynching. Goal setting is integral when working on such an extensive project. As the students work toward erecting a memorial, they’ve undertaken smaller projects to help build public awareness about North Carolina’s history, fundraise, and engage people with FSC’s work.

For example, FSC recently designed a lapel pin, in collaboration with Black and Belonging’s Youth Voice Initiative. The pin symbolizes Black perseverance, beauty, and the importance of education, and has helped to raise money for the lynching memorial. When the group began discussing a memorial design, they first decided on the image of a tree — representing  growth and renewal. But after conversations with members of the Black community, they soon realized that the tree design evoked images of white supremacy, enslavement, and terror, and would need to be changed. These projects were an exercise in collaboration, communication, and values. Working with an external group, they negotiated various design ideas, and ultimately, settled on one(s) that stayed true to FSC’s mission.

Critically Questioning What Students Are Taught

While it’s important to be open to other perspectives, Black struggles and triumphs aren’t always included in the classroom. Many students are in spaces where frank discussions about race and racism are discouraged. The FSC has sought to change that by critically questioning what students have been taught. Through projects, poems, and other literary devices, students are challenging narratives that have allowed white supremacy to remain unquestioned. To avoid discussions about oppression and privilege is to whitewash the complexity that is America’s history. It robs some students of the chance to feel comfortable in their classrooms; others of a chance to develop empathy; and all students of opportunities to learn about the many different and not-so-different people who came before and the important issues and truths that have shaped our country and are shaping its future.

The experience can be enlightening. What students achieve is much more meaningful than a simple grade; they learn to hone their critical thinking skills, and to question and challenge the narratives and myths that maintain the status quo.

The Freedom Struggle Committee strives to give voice to and uplift the humanity of those who have been silenced and robbed of their full lives. In the words of Ida B. Wells, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Sarah Elliott is currently a senior at Raleigh Charter School and is a member of the Freedom Struggle Committee. To support FSC and help create positive change in your own classroom conversations, visit FSC’s Linktree, which has information on the lapel pins, how to donate, and more.

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