It is not often that one finds a community that perfectly combines mission driven colleagues, students and families, an alignment of values and vision, and a general orientation toward the practice of meaningful engagement in social justice, action, impact, kindness, and joy. This is what I have been immensely grateful to have found—and now be a contributing part of—at Brooklyn Friends School. The work of Global Civic Engagement and Social Impact is part and parcel of who we are as a school and community. It is embedded in our Quaker values and our testimonies. I am deeply honored to help us continue to live these values.
I come to Brooklyn Friends with a background in the kind of social justice and global citizenship education, activism, and action that are at the core of BFS. The framing of this work is outlined by the words of our students as featured right here on our website:
“We have a social justice approach to service learning grounded in Community, Accountability, Reciprocity, and Equity (C.A.R.E.). This approach encourages students to see themselves as agents of change, partner with organizations and leaders in the community, and use the experience of service and civic engagement to respond to Inequities and injustice impacting the human community, animals and the environment.”
As an educator and practitioner, with more than 16 years of experience in this area, I could not have said it much better. We will continue to be of service in the manner so eloquently described above. We will also move more toward an engagement and impact orientation, allowing us to thoughtfully, ethically, and sustainably partner with co-conspirators all around us, as we delve into the work of enacting true systemic change on the issues that most impact us and our communities. This approach has long been a staple at BFS and is now being reinvigorated as a result of the work of students, families and colleagues.
The work of Global Civic Engagement and Social Impact efforts will have certain key hallmarks:
- There will be ties to grade-level curriculum and themes
- We will use a Fair Trade Learning approach: When we work with any community, we will do so in a manner that prioritizes reciprocity in relationships through cooperative, cross-cultural participation in learning, service, and efforts to advance change. We will foreground the goals of economic equity, equal partnership, mutual learning, cooperative and positive social change, transparency, and sustainability.
- We will build Global Competence as we engage in Global Citizenship Education: Civic learning that involves active participation in projects that address local, national and global issues of a social, political, economic, or environmental nature.
- The work will be grounded in Critical Pedagogy—A teaching philosophy that invites educators to encourage students to critique structures of power and oppression. It is rooted in critical theory, which involves becoming aware of and questioning the societal status quo.
- We will also have a grounding in Human Rights Education—Promoting values, beliefs and attitudes that encourage all individuals to uphold their own rights and those of others. We will develop an understanding of everyone’s common responsibility to make human rights a reality in each community.
At both our Pearl and Lawrence Street campuses, you will find a Social Justice Hub—a nerve center for ideation and action on social justice at BFS—also a chill space open to all to take a minute and be in community whenever necessary. The Social Justice Hub is where you will find myself and Dr. AnaMaria Correa, our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging. We hold this space to meet with students, colleagues, families, organizational partners, and all manner of other friends as we conspire to effect true positive change in our society. Change that is more optimally achieved with careful attention to equity and belonging.
Working with students, families and colleagues since the start of the school year, we are already fully engaged in impact projects. Some examples:
- A Social Justice Committee has been formed in the Upper School Student Government. They are currently leading a drive to collect much needed warm clothing and shoes for asylum seekers arriving in New York City in their thousands. This effort has been supported by a group of BFS families and is the first stage in a larger project. The next step will be facilitating deeper community education on the larger issue of immigration, and assessing and critiquing our immigration policy using a human rights lens.
- The Middle School International Passport PEP elective is supporting the migrant relief drive and leading efforts to gather donations among the middle school community. This group will also initiate their own projects with the support of their teachers and me, and serve as one of the main social justice touchpoints in the middle grades at BFS.
- Linked to the migration education and relief campaign, I will be working with Lower School teachers to link campaign efforts to a fourth grade migration unit.
- Two sections of 9th grade students are engaged in initial learning, research and action on social justice issues that both groups have identified. The projects serve as a laying of the groundwork for long term campaigns on those issues, with the intention of joining movements for effective policy action and change on both. One group is focused on gun violence prevention, the other on reproductive rights.
- Intentional thought partnership, with specific faculty colleagues and Dr. Correa, on the infusion of engagement, impact and social justice into curricular content
- Collaboration with several 11th and 12th grade students on Creativity, Activity and Service (C.A.S.) projects as part of their International Baccalaureate program.
- Collaboration with student clubs that have a specific social justice and/or issue based focus (Friends of Nature, Baking for Social Justice, etc).
As we build on the school’s rich legacy of engagement and impact programming this year, with several projects and action oriented campaigns and events, we will also look to the future. There is much to get excited about in that regard.
As I am quick to remind anyone who will listen, young people have always been at the forefront of major social justice movements. To name but a few examples: They played a key role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, they have led the gun violence prevention movement in the United States, students in New York City campaigned for and secured student MetroCards and recognition of Muslim holidays in the academic calendar. As we navigate a moment where there seems to be a fragility around the sanctity of basic rights and freedoms, where things we may have taken for granted like voting rights, bodily autonomy and democracy seem to be under genuine threat, our work together to secure these rights is more important than ever.
I am excited to embark on this journey with the entire BFS community. I look forward to building on the rich history of meaningful service experience at Brooklyn Friends School, rolling up my sleeves and standing in solidarity with our community as we engage in action, advocacy, and systemic change, assuming the role of global changemakers.
Kevin Murungi is the Director of Global Civic Engagement and Social Impact at BFS.