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Changemakers in NYC: Webster Students Attend Conference Focused on Civil Rights in Education

Three Webster High School students had the extraordinary opportunity to attend a civil rights conference in New York City over fall break. Sponsored by the XQ Institute, seniors Kelsey Rice and Phoenix Jacobs and freshman Vytoria Lewis traveled to NYC for A Calling: The Civil Right of Education.

In total, about thirty students from across the country were selected by their schools for the event, and they were in great company. Spike Lee, Rosario Dawson, Anna Deavere Smith, Questlove, and MC Hammer all stopped by to talk about civil rights, activism, and how race and income disparities impact education. Famous authors offered free copies of their books to students, performers like Sweet Honey in the Rock sang while others danced, and several speakers moved the students with their words.

“It felt like a big family,” said Vytoria. “Being in that room with all those generations of activists, it felt like a family finally come together.”

“So many impactful civil rights leaders are there, and we just get to talk and mingle with them and dance and have fun,” said Kelsey.

“It was a really eye-opening experience,” said Phoenix. “Being in a room full of people who are inspired to make change in education, it was really enlightening.”

A few students, including Vytoria, were chosen to interview the high-profile honorees.  

“The people were so nice. It’s like we were the celebrities,” said Vytoria. “I wish that everyone in my school could have the experience to interview people and get to know what they do and their perspective on the civil rights of education.”

Harry Belefonte was on the host committee for A Calling. Though he was unable to attend, he sent in a video to students encouraging them to keep advocating for change – to continue what the older generations started. 

“It’s time for those who have inherited the history of the civil rights movement, the history of the struggle, it’s now your turn to get out there and bring a rewarding closure to this endless struggle for equality,” he said.

The conference was two days long, but the lessons continue on. Now that the students have returned to school, they are working on projects that will highlight a changemaker that inspires them. When completed, the projects will hopefully engage and connect with their peers.

“I want to give people the same motivation that those activists gave me,” said Vytoria. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”

For her project, Vytoria selected poet Audre Lorde. She plans to create an elaborate, colorful painting filled with quotes from Lorde that Webster students can relate to.

Phoenix chose jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. She is working on a multi-part series on civil rights that will highlight Fitzgerald and how students can become activists in their community.

Kelsey Rice decided on two changemakers: Septima Poinsette Clark and Fannie Lou Hamer. She is filming a documentary that will show how these women influenced the educational system and today’s youth women activists.

“I want to start a movement,” she said. “I’m hoping I can get [my peers] to step up to the plate.”

The students will present their projects to their fellow students and submit them to the XQ team in mid-November.

Click here to watch a recap of A Calling: The Civil Right of Education and check out the photos below for a glimpse of the incredible experience the students got to take part in.