I feel like a lot of the time when we think of activism we think of starting some large movement that impacts masses of people Dr. King or Malala Yousafzai style. If you ask me, activism doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture.
I don’t watch pageants, but having done my undergrad at Michigan State, I have a lot of friends who are from Michigan. At the Miss America Pageant, Miss Michigan used her 10 second introduction to talk about Flint.
The Flint Water Crisis happened when I was still at Michigan State. I know people with family in Flint, so I wasn’t at all removed from what was happening. Although it was a huge deal at the time, it has kind of fallen off the radar, even though it obviously is still intensely real for Michigan residents.
Emily Sioma is from a town that’s about an hour away from Flint. As a representative of the state of Michigan (that’s what being Miss Michigan means, right?), she used her platform to bring attention to a major crisis in the 10 seconds that most contestants would’ve tried to talk themselves up. She used her role as a representative of the state of Michigan, not from the city of Flint, to serve as an ally of this cause.
There are many different aspects of being an activist, but as Sioma demonstrated, sometimes being an activist just means serving the cause in anyway you can by being an ally. We can’t all relate to every fight out there, but there is power in being educated and serving others however we can.
When we consider teaching as an act of activism, I think it can be really daunting, especially if we didn’t experience that kind of teaching ourselves. However, I think there is a conversation to be had about being an ally. It is so important for teachers to develop relationships with their students, to have real conversations with them and understand their needs both inside and outside of their classrooms, to push them to succeed while having high expectations for them, and most importantly, to just be there for them. Sometimes, being an advocate and an ally for an individual student, or even for a group of students can be of real consequence. There is a lot of value in believing in our students and empowering them both inside and outside of school. I think it’s high time that we as educators challenge ourselves to get outside of our comfort zones. Activism can happen in the smallest ways or the biggest ways; it just starts with taking the first step.