Developing the Future Leaders and Advocates: The Youth Civil Rights Academy

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

In 2014, the State of Michigan received a failing grade from the Southern Poverty Law Center on its guidance for teaching students about civil rights in its major documents and support resources. This assessment served as a call to action for civil rights education, which is the same cause that ignited the creation of the Youth Civil Rights Academy. Led by Professor Barry Checkoway, this Academy aims to promote the formation of the next generation of civil rights leaders by developing young people in Michigan through educational and advocacy resources, experiences and tools.

Harmony Rhodes

“I really would love to change the systematic injustices in the education system.”
Harmony Rhodes, in her featured story about social justice

Through its programming, resources and curriculum, the Academy serves as a portal that bridges residential boundaries and expands access to education. In addition to developing civil rights leaders and advocates, participating students will learn to view higher education as a civil rights issue and receive information to enable their own path for continued learning including: an understanding of the admissions process, financial aid and other support services. They will also have an opportunity to receive acknowledgment for demonstrating their understanding of and dedication for civil rights in today’s context as well as how to create change through collaboration, dialogue and action.

“We at the University of Michigan have stepped forward to create an academy that will have online courses, it will have face to face meetings in schools and it will have summits at the University of Michigan where we can bring future civil rights leaders around the state to Ann Arbor to meet each other. I think it’s a great role for a public university to play.”
– Barry Checkoway

The Youth Civil Rights Academy focuses on addressing the challenges and opportunities related to civil rights in today’s society through inter-institutional collaboration, as well as the provision of educational and advocacy resources. As a part of this, the academy has formed partnerships between the University of Michigan and schools and communities throughout the state. Additionally, the Academy partners with the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Michigan Department of Civil Rights and Google Apps for Education, as well as other educational technology providers, in order to produce and share resources for furthered civil rights education for young people and adult allies.

“When our young people participate on issues of civil rights, it strengthens their personal and social development. It has an effect on their knowledge and skills, it contributes to their civic competencies and it can have a lasting effect on the larger society of which we’re all a part.”
Barry Checkoway in the Detroit Free Press

Through these partnerships, the Academy will provide resources, such as a teacher curriculum and online courses offered through the Youth Civil Rights Academy website, to serve as a portal for engaged learning and integrated content and/or activities. Through the combination of online and face-to-face educational experiences, young people will learn more about how to promote and defend their rights, and the rights of others, as well as how to create changes in their schools and communities.

In addition to these resources, the Youth Civil Rights Academy employs several pathways to create an integrated experience for learning about and/or advocating for civil rights.

  • Campus Programs: U-M welcomes students to the campus to attend sessions focused on building leadership skills and relationships for pre-college and university students
  • School and Community Organizing: The Academy provides resources on civil rights issues for students and teachers to integrate into courses and activities.
  • Digital Stories and Courses: The online courses and website, together, address modern civil rights issues and provide a platform for young people to converse on these topics with their peers.

Combined, these partnerships and resources aim to inspire Academy participants to become more thoughtful, engaged participants in the civil rights issues by providing them with the practical skills to increase dialogue and action.

“I can’t wait for the next person to make change so at the end of the day I am holding myself accountable and I’m going to do anything I can and that I have to do to make the world more socially just.”
Harmony Rhodes, in her featured story about social justice

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