Karen Marshall, executive director of Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, joined the Education Town Hall to discuss the history and practice of helping students “Rethink” their schools and communities.
The Rethink program began following Hurricane Katrina in 2006 as a way to help young people have some say in how their schools were rebuilt and reimagined. Students themselves created the title “Rethinkers,” and the program continues to promotes youth organizing and leadership development through its Rethinkers Clubs, Rethink Collective Organizing, and Summer Leadership Institute. Many efforts focus on food justice and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.
Marshall described how students are encouraged to envision a “Power Net” around their their chosen topic and then seek spots where they can have an impact. In their early work on food, for example, they organized to demand that Aramark, a large provider of school lunches, offer healthier food that supports the local economy.
Loss of a Visionary
George Carter, then aged 7, joined his older siblings in helping to launch the Rethinkers. He coined the term “pre-thinkers” for the youngest participants. By the age of 15, he’d been an advocate for food justice for years. He is also credited with declaring that schools needed “mood detectors not metal detectors.”
George Carter was killed October 21, on his way to school.
Marshall describes Carter as a “wonderful visionary, an incredible person…killed October 21, while he was on the way to school.” The grieving process has been complicated, Marshall says, “larger narratives” that question the value of young black lives:
…going through the grieving process itself is difficult and then dealing with larger narratives that keep coming out, the same tropes that come out, about young black males and youth of color — and whether or not they deserve to be mourned and whether or not they deserve to be treated as humans either in life or in death. Those are the things that make this even more difficult.”
“They want it to be real”
There is a common notion that young people just “don’t like” school, but this is wrong, Marshall argued. Instead, she said, students need an education that reflects who they are and responds to their needs. “They want it to be real.”
Moreover, it is not true that “young people don’t care,” Marshall added. “They want to be counted… They are passionate about and interested in changing their communities….They have a fire.”
More about this innovative program on Track 4 here —
This segment is dedicated to the memories of Rethinkers George Carter and Jade Anderson.
Carter, age 15, died in a shooting on 10/21/14;
Anderson, age 12, died in a fire on 11/11/14.
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