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Sojourn Action Plans

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Throughout the academic immersion journey, students engage with teachers in discussion and analysis about each day’s lessons. An emphasis on thinking critically about how the lessons learned are relevant to human rights issues and conditions as well as to their individual lives is stressed. Throughout the journey, students are guided by the Sojourn teachers to focus on their inner strength and greater purpose. Lessons and activities are designed to model discussions, interactions and challenges that students will face after returning from the journey. The Ella J. Baker workshop presented during the journey is designed to foster teamwork, collaborative decision making, and civic responsibility.

As a result of the Sojourn experience and, specifically, the workshop on direct action, students return to their schools and communities with ideas for implementing change among peer groups and the community at large. Many students also pursue additional learning and are supported by the Sojourn to the Past staff with additional resource materials, opportunities for attending workshops, and assistance with enhancing their writing and public speaking skills.

The following examples of student designed direct action projects also reflect the mentoring of teachers who return from the Sojourn journey transformed into champions for student voice.

Youngstown, Ohio

On October 1, 2010, the Mayor of Youngstown, the President of Youngstown State University and the President of the Youngstown City School District convened a press conference to announce that formal resolutions had been adopted by their councils/boards to declare that the first week in October each year will be Non-Violence Week in Youngstown, Ohio.

This is the result of direct action planning by twelve Youngstown high school students the genesis of which evolved during their participation in Sojourn in 2009. The students spent months in activities prior to the press conference petitioning the leadership in Youngstown towards adopting the resolutions. Mentored by their teacher who also participates in Sojourn, they first sold thousands of T-shirts bearing non violence slogans to pay for messages on billboards throughout the City about non violence (the population of Youngstown is 82,000). They then conducted workshops for students at other schools and in the community about the principles of non violence, drawing upon lessons learned from Sojourn (the population of the school district is 6,400). They appeared before the City Council and the school Board and they partnered with the Women Studies Department at the University to bring Minnijean Brown Trickey (Little Rock Nine) to speak in classes on the campus and at an event in the community (there are 13,000 students at Youngstown State University).

In November 2010, accompanied by their history teacher, three Sojourn alumni traveled to the Ohio State School Board Convention and made a presentation on lessons learned from Sojourn to the Past.

From Youngstown teacher Penny Wells: “These student organizers come from an area of the city that is economically depressed. Many of the City’s students have a sense of hopelessness and a feeling that they have no control over their own destiny. Sojourn to the Past was the catalyst for this leadership development and a testament to the power of a small group of students who were able to seize the power, influence powerful governing bodies and reach a broader audience in Youngstown to make a difference in schools and the community at large.”

New York

Students from Buffalo State University who participated in Sojourn committed to share the knowledge gained from Sojourn. Some of their tangible activities include:

  • Students informed student groups and United Student Government about non violence and the consequences of being silent witnesses during the spring 2009
  • One of the students presented “Women: The unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement” in May 2009 at the Undergraduate Research and Creativity Day, Buffalo State College
  • Two of the professors from Buffalo State University who participated in Sojourn co-organized a student panel and mentored three Sojourn alumni: New York State Sociological Association in October 2009 with topics on: “Music, People, and Social Change; Women of the Civil Rights Movement; Diversity: Caucasian Americans in the Civil Rights Movement
  • One of the students created the organization on campus, “Promoting Peace Across America”
  • As a result of Sojourn, the University has implemented coursework a Sojourn curriculum. Journal entries from student sojourners as part of the course requirement in sociology were presented at Buffalo’s 10th Annual Faculty/Staff Research and Creativity Fall Forum in October 2009. Common themes emerged for sharing about persevering and being persistent in seeking change

Prep for Prep in Manhattan identifies New York City’s most promising students of color and prepares them for placement at independent schools in the City. Students from Prep for Prep returned from Sojourn and created a short documentary film on how hurtful language is an act of violence: “Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones but Names will Never Hurt Me”. The documentary, written and produced by the Sojourn alumni, shares interviews with students and adults focused on the impact of the terms, “nigger” and “that’s so gay”.


South San Francisco High School and El Camino High School are large, diverse public high schools in the Bay Area. With enthusiastic and encouraging support from their history teachers, students from these schools have partnered with Sojourn to the Past for many years. Action plans have included the following:

  • Creating their own presentations for peer classes and middle school students about lessons learned on Sojourn
  • Presenting to their local school boards asking that lessons taught/learned on Sojourn be incorporated into district curriculum
  • Conducting anti-bullying and non-violence workshops on how forms of language are acts of violence
  • Organized voter registration drives
Sojourn to the Past provides students the unique opportunity for them to delve into an important part of America's history, which the k-12 curriculum either does not cover or is limited in scope; thus, the Sojourn living history lesson ensures that the struggles of the past, which contributed to the freedoms we all enjoy today, are remembered.
-Samuel Johnson, Jr., Board of Directors

Civil Rights Resource Center