Your own Avenue of the Righteous
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At least three important memorials have occurred in recent weeks: Black History Month, International Holocaust Memorial Day, and the Japanese-American Internment Day of Remembrance. Below, I provide a project template to use for these memorials, or to modify for other kinds of events.
But first, a quick review.
Black History Month had its origins in Negro History Week, a commemoration begun by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. In 1976, as part of the celebration of the US bicentennial, congress elevated that memorial into Black History Month, to promote the study of this much neglected but integral part of American history.
Although there are Holocaust memorial days specific to many countries, International Holocaust Memorial Day was established by the UN, to be commemorated on the date that Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, was liberated by Soviet troops.
Least known among these important commemorations is the Japanese-American Internment Day of Remembrance, which memorializes the day that FDR signed Executive Order 9066, requiring internment of all U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry. About 70,000 Japanese-American citizens, and 50,000 permanent residents were stripped of their constitutional rights by that executive order. They had to give up their homes and businesses, usually for a fraction of their value, and were forced to live in prison camps for the remainder of WWII.
The idea for this project came from two Facebook posts. In one, a friend decided to make a post each day for the month of February, presenting a picture and brief biography of an important African American, encouraging others to do the same. Another friend posted the biography of Jose Arturo Castellanos Contreras, a Salvadoran army colonel and diplomat during WWII, who prepared 13,000 fake Salvadoran citizenship papers that saved 40,000 Central European Jews.
The Project Template:
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, is partially encircled by a lane called the “Avenue of the Righteous,” a memorial to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews. It’s an outstanding model for honoring important people.
Use Pinterest to have your students make a personal Avenue of the Righteous to learn about Black history, the Holocaust, or the Japanese internment. Of course, the idea can be expanded beyond these three memorials. For example, students could make an Avenue of the Righteous as a school-wide project to honor students who resisted bullying or who engaged in an act of social justice. Student council could set up a submission box and design the board. Each class or grade level could then be given responsibility to update the board week by week.
Or, thinking of our obsession with sports and athletes, how about an Avenue of the Righteous of great athletes whose work OFF the field/court for the sake of the poor, the displaced, the oppressed, the sick is arguably more exceptional than their athletic ability. As a Pittsburgher, I think immediately of Roberto Clemente. I idolized him as a kid, but now my respect for his charity work supersedes my regard for his baseball ability.
The list of potential topics goes on.
Literature: characters who showed exceptional ethical qualities, kindness, leadership.
History: peace-makers, knowledge-bringers, creative geniuses.
Civics: people in your community or town or city who have been leaders in pursuing justice and kindness.
Or how about great scientists or mathematicians? And don’t forget women and minorities in all these areas.
Each entry can have a photo and a short biography explaining why that person deserves to be on the Avenue.
That was easy, so why not ramp the project up a notch? Electronic avenues can be a collection of videos and podcasts made by teams, some or all of which can be posted on your school website. Depending on your policies, the school might also create a YouTube or Vimeo account. Then all students could post their videos online, and you could promote a school-wide vote, so students could pick their favorite video or videos. The video channel can be a great promotional tool for your school, as well.
Japanese internment resources
From the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation:
From the Japanese American National Museum in LA:
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Wishing you the best,