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‘You can stand up for yourself’: Carman-Ainsworth class teaches social activism

Seniors at Carman Ainsworth are tackling topics they are passionate about, graduating as activists.
Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 5:57 PM EDT
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FLINT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WJRT) - (5/10/2021) - Helping students find their voice.

That’s the goal of an English class at Carman-Ainsworth High School. But it’s not just any English class. The seniors graduate as activists, ready to change the world they’re stepping into.

At the beginning of her Activism Class at Carman-Ainsworth High School, Jessyca Mathews asks her class what they care about.

Once her students can answer, the lessons on powerful activists and their research on their topic begin. Then it comes down to this week, when they stand up for what they believe in.

Senior Amiya Betts read a snippet from a poem she wrote on sexism.

“Your dress is too short, your confidence is too high. How dare you think that you are better than a man,” she shared.

Sexism isn’t just a topic for Betts’ project, it’s a reality the high school senior has already experienced.

“It was kind of challenging at first because it’s like OK, I don’t want to, you know, put too much out there about me but at the same time I want people to hear my story,” Betts said.

She’s been grateful to hear her classmates’ stories too, shown in their passions that range from police brutality to transphobia to school reform. For once, her school work wasn’t about the grade she’d get.

“This class has helped me realize a lot about what I’ve been through, and me being able to speak about it and tell people like you can stand up for yourself,” Betts said.

Mathews said she didn’t witness that confidence and courage in Betts at the beginning of the school year. One of many reasons why the longtime educator knows this class is vital for the seniors.

“I mean, that’s what she was on the inside. She just needed an opportunity to bring that out and to speak out,” Mathews said. “I’m glad that I was able to give that to her.”

Mathews started teaching Activism about four years ago. It was in response to the Flint water crisis, which opened the eyes of everyone in the community to the impact their voices can make.

“One of my former students, she has her own foundation. She has written a book. And she’s like, it all started because you let me do these kinds of things at school,” Mathews said. “That’s the most rewarding thing .... helping build them up to be the people that they end up being to change the world.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mathews said they were able to bring in people close to the topics the students are focusing on, like a police officer for example.

Last year, she said the School Resource Officer attended Activism Day and shared he learned quite a bit from the students’ perspective.

Mathews is hopeful to bring that element back next year.

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