Civil Rights Team Project State Conference
On Monday, May 23, 2016, over 500 students and teachers gathered at the Augusta Civic Center for the Civil Rights Team Project State Conference. Hosted by the Office of the Maine Attorney General, the conference was the first event of its kind since 2010. In addition to schools attending from across the state, the event was also attended by guests Pigeon, a Portland based street artist whose “Mainer” project is currently showing at the Maine Historical Society, and Vishavjit Singh, a writer, cartoonist, and performance artist who travels across the U.S. sharing his passion for art, tolerance, diversity, and social justice.
Middle and high school civil rights teams spent the day attending workshops aimed at both discussing and celebrating their work during the 2015 school year. During a “Spotlight Schools” session, students presented on projects they initiated in their own schools. Students from Dirigo High School discussed the work they did to keep the civil rights team from being eliminated and their plans for “doing the work that needs to be done” in Maine schools.
Another session, facilitated by Vishavjit Singh, examined identity and the role of art in challenging perceptions. After speaking, Singh asked student groups to create an original or reimagined piece of art. Students from Lee Academy drew a cartoon of the Statue of Liberty wearing a turban, saying they hoped to repeat the activity at their own school as way to challenge students. Another session, which asked students to discuss race and stereotypes, featured student facilitators from Lewiston High School. In groups of 10, students discussed white privilege and ways they can support fellow students who face discrimination.
Wrapping up the daylong event, students and teachers gathered in the main auditorium for a keynote talk by Vishavjit Singh, well known for his cartoons and alter ego “Sikh Captain America.” Wearing a Captain America costume, a matching blue turban, and brandishing an impressively solid shield, Singh can be seen walking the streets of New York as he fights intolerance. Singh’s message resonated with students and encouraged them to continue their own work of battling intolerance and challenging perceptions throughout Maine schools.