Athey Creek Middle School's Destination: Global Justice assembly promoted peace, love and equity during a special event Monday morning, Nov. 6.
The Wholistic Peace Institute (WPI) — a research, teaching and peacemaking institute — gives out a Spirit of Unity Award award every year to Oregon elementary, middle, high school and community colleges for their human rights and conflict resolution clubs. The award honors various clubs' efforts in advocating for peace and creating service projects in their schools and communities.
Principal Joel Sebastian, who was formerly on the board for WPI as a volunteer member, developed a partnership with WPI to bring in notable speakers to Oregon schools. So while Athey Creek was not one of the recipients of the award this year — it was in 2014 — the school was one of three middle schools able to host the guest speaker, Andrew Young, a well-known civil rights leader, politician and activist.
"(The award is) about educating for peace; it's about nonviolence, activism and outreach around student leadership and voice to make a difference in their communities," Principal Joel Sebastian said. "This year, we are hosting Andrew Young here and we are having a big event surrounding that, and as a part of the event, one of the Spirit of Unity Award recipients — St. Mary's Academy — is here."
St. Mary's Academy was one of eight recipients of the award this year.
"He talks a lot about empowering voice; he talks a lot about how we work together as a community to make a difference and how we work together productively," Sebastian said. "Part of his message is about respecting differences between people in order to move an agenda forward so that translates into kind of an anti-bullying message in a lot of ways."
The assembly, which was run by students, began with the choir singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing." There were students who introduced the various speakers, read poems and shared artwork to raise awareness about social issues.
Students from St. Mary's introduced their program — Youth Ending Slavery — a youth-led nonprofit organization that advocates and provides services and outreach to spread awareness and education about sex-trafficking.
Young then gave a speech about his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, his time as a politician in Georgia, being a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and the social justice climate in today's society.
"The answers to peace and justice are complicated but the approach is very simple," Young said in his speech. "Peace and justice start with love yourself and being fair to yourself."
After he shared the importance of promoting peace and justice, Athey Creek wanted to honor him and all the work he has done. Students presented him as an honorary recipient for their highest student award — which occasionally goes to adults — the Athey Creek Unity Award.
"It's our highest student award so every once in awhile we have an adult come to school that is a real contributor to society and our community," Sebastian said. "The best way we can honor him is with our Athey Creek Unity Award."