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Sojourn Action Plans

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Throughout the ten day academic immersion journey students are engaged with teachers in discussion and analysis of each day’s lessons with an emphasis on thinking critically about how the lessons learned are relevant not only to current human rights issues and conditions, but also to their individual lives. Throughout the journey, students are guided by the Sojourn teachers to focus on their own 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 on the eighth evening of Sojourn is designed to foster teamwork, collaborative decision making and civic responsibility and explore mechanisms by which students can reach a broader audience with their messaging and ideas.

As a result of Sojourn and the workshop on direct action, most of the students return to their schools and communities with ideas for implementing change in action to raise awareness among peer groups and the community at large. Others opt to engage on a more personal level to pursue additional learning and are supported in these endeavors by their teachers and Sojourn staff with additional resource materials, opportunities for attending workshops, assistance with enhancing their writing and public speaking skills, and so forth.

The following examples of direct action designed by and student driven reflect also the mentoring of teachers who return from Sojourn’s academic immersion journey transformed into champions for student voice.

Youngstown, Ohio

As a result of Youngstown, Ohio Sojourn student alumni lobbying their local and state legislators to accomplish a non-violence week in their city and state, the Governor of Ohio signed Senate Bill 38 (introduced by Senator Schiavoni) declaring that, each year, the first week in October will be “Non Violence Week in Ohio”. This remarkable accomplishment has been pioneered by Sojourn alumni from Youngstown which has the nation’s highest concentration of poverty. They persevered, first to accomplish a non-violence week ordinance in Youngstown and then set their sights on the Governor’s office. One of the components of Sojourn’s immersion journeys is the development of direct action plans. This is a premier example of Sojourn’s positive influence on motivating students, regardless of their backgrounds, to become engaged leaders for social change.

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 been participating in Sojourn for many years. Some of their action plans have been:

  • 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
This trip helped me realize what we can do as a society and how we, ordinary people, can do extraordinary things
-Lisa, former student

Civil Rights Resource Center