Speak Truth to Power 

CPS students realize the importance of human rights by participating in Nobel summit

May 03, 2012

In the days leading up to the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, past winners, including the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev and microcredit inventor Muhammed Yunus, not only got to know the city, they also got to know its public school students. In fact, one of the central themes of the summit this year was to engage and empower young people in the discussion around international peace, and the laureates did just that through interactive panel discussions, one-on-one conversations and a variety of exciting events. For many Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, being a part of the summit activities has been an experience they’ll never forget. 


In anticipation of the summit, CPS students studied about the laureates in their social science classes throughout the school year using a curriculum that was developed by a group of 14 CPS teachers in association with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). The curriculum provides an overview of human rights and social justice issues in the United States and around the world and is comprised of 32 lessons on a range of topics, from slavery and environmental activism to religious self-determination and political participation. To learn more about Opens in a new window icon. the curriculum, click here.


On the first day of the summit, many CPS students and teachers got the rare opportunity to interact with Nobel Peace Prize winners. Nobel Laureates fanned out to of 17 CPS schools to meet young people. Some of the highlights are below:


  • Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, 1990 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, visited Frederick Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center, joined by students from East Timor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and actor Sean Penn also visited Von Steuben and spoke with students there, including the school's valedictorian.
  • Iranian human rights activist, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, visited Walter Payton College Prep.
  • Canadian Dr. Bruce Lampard, 1999 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work with Doctors without Borders, visited Lindblom Math and Science Academy. In fact, students from Lindblom's Advance Placement Human Geography class students took it a step further by creating a Twitter account to live-tweet highlights from Lampard’s visit.
  • At Chicago Academy High School, students spoke with former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for helping to end the apartheid in South Africa.
  • Many people shared their thoughts and images gathered from the summit on social media platforms. For a curated social story of this year’s Opens in a new window icon. World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, click here.


Professor Muhammed Yunus of Bangladesh, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is best known for developing the concepts of microcredit and micro-financing, visited a group of students at Lincoln Park High School. Juanita Douglas Thurman, one of the 14 teachers who worked on the CPS Speak Truth to Power curriculum, partnered with another Lincoln Park teacher, Jennifer Johnson, to teach the unit to juniors and seniors in Honors African-American History classes. This spring, the students learned about microcredit, how it can help to alleviate poverty, and studied Dr. Muhammed Yunus extensively. The fact that her students then got to meet Professor Yunus in person, Ms. Thurman said, was truly an incredible opportunity.


Professor Yunus visited the school along with five students from Bangladesh. These young people were a part of a group brought to the United States through a visit coordinated by the U.S. State Department. A total of 16 students came from conflict areas of East Timor, Bangladesh, Liberia, and Yemen to attend the World Summit and also to visit several Chicago Public Schools.


Thurman described the impact the experience with the World Summit had on her students: “It gave our kids a world perspective of human interaction beyond war and conflict. I think it made our students ask very hard questions about leadership and government. And, definitely, the role of the individual was studied extensively. I would say that the students began to ask themselves real world questions; actually sitting in a room with the Dalai Lama, Gorbachev and hearing them talk about how they feel about peace and equality really changed it around for them.”


Lincoln Park Senior Jackie H. had the special opportunity to present Professor Muhammed Yunus at her high school, as well as introduce him at the World Summit itself. In her speech, she spoke about her experience with Speak Truth to Power and its influence on her, and the things that she thought were most important to let everyone know about the project.


Jackie said that the best thing about the entire experience was being able to meet the people she and her classmates were studying and listen to what they had to say about the problems that are affecting our world. “Not only did I learn about global activism in general, but I also began to realize the importance of human rights around the world, and how they affect me, even if it’s not directly,” she said.


Jackie described what she learned from Professor Yunus’s discussion, “Professor Yunus talked about what society needs to do to improve its system. He explained to us that we put a big emphasis on profit, instead of building society, and helping those that are less fortunate. Banks give money to those who already have it. We need to redesign the system to help those who actually need the support to make a step forward.”


Finally, because of a partnership with Scholastic called “Speak up, Speak Out for Freedom and Rights,” CPS students, as well as many students in other places across the nation were able to experience the summit through a live webcast of the event so that students who were not able to attend the actual summit could still view the panel discussions online. For Opens in a new window icon. the complete webcasts, continue here.


In another effort to find new ways to bridge cultural gaps between young people around the world, the U.S. State Department sponsored web chats between CPS students and high school students from other countries. Kids got to ask each other questions about their day-to-day experiences in school, their plans for the future, and about normal teenage things such as what kind of music they listen to.


Following their school visits, the laureates attended the summit’s opening ceremony at the UIC Forum, where CPS students had the honor of introducing President and Chair of the summit Mikhail Gorbachev and interacting with the other laureates, including Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama, F.W. de Klerk, and others. Between 300-500 CPS students had the opportunity to attend the summit each day.


In another effort to find new ways to bridge cultural gaps between young people around the world, the U.S. State Department sponsored web chats between CPS students and high school students from other countries. Kids got to ask each other questions about their day-to-day experiences in school, their plans for the future, and about normal teenage things such as what kind of music they listen to.


The idea to make youth action a primary focus of the summit was very well-received all around. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune by Dahlene Glanton, “Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, chairman of the summit, was so impressed that he suggested that the focus on youth and education be incorporated into all future summits …. In their closing statement, the laureates issued a joint appeal to youth around the world, urging them to challenge their political leaders to abolish nuclear arms and other indiscriminate weapons such as land mines, bridge the divide between wealth and poverty, save the planet from environmental disaster, and protect and promote human rights and equality between women and men.”
Opens in a new window icon. Dalai Lama, fellow Nobel laureates call on young people to fight for peaceChicago Tribune,by Dahlene Glanton.

Photo gallery
Speak Truth to Power
Photo gallery: No more 'hungry eyes'