Teen Peers Increase their Leadership Role in Climate Lobby Training

One of the Truth School’s most popular trainings, “Harnessing the Unique Power of Teens to Advance Climate Legislation,” is jumping to a new level this winter as graduates of the previous trainings—flush with experience in delivering statehouse testimonies, leading marches, making public speeches, and arranging meetings with their legislators—step up to mentor a new set of teen climate activists in classes that will be held in January and March.

Teens, including 10 graduates of the Truth School's climate lobby training, led a recent climate march in downtown Northampton.
Teens, including 10 graduates of the Truth School’s climate lobby training, led a recent climate march in downtown Northampton. (Photo courtesy of Rene Theberge.)

At the last teen climate lobby training in October, ten students from West Boylston, MA, (outside of Worcester) traveled with their Social Justice Club to Northampton to take our three-hour class. There, they met five teen climate activists from Northampton, Amherst, and Greenfield and practiced public speaking skills together by video-recording one another making powerful statements about climate action.

This model of peer mentoring was so successful that the teaching role of teens’ who have previously taken the class will expand in the next teen climate lobby training, on January 8. In addition to teaching and practicing powerful public speaking skills, the teen graduates will lead a Q&A as they share their experiences as youth climate lobbyists, legislative interns, rally speakers, and videographers. They will also facilitate break-out groups, in which they will help peers brainstorm and prioritize tangible post-training goals and action steps.

Max Shannon, Madeleine Lombard, and Aislyn Jewett testifying about climate legislation to a packed room at the MA State House.
Max Shannon, Madeleine Lombard, and Aislyn Jewett testifying about climate legislation to a packed room at the MA State House.

Teen trainers in January will include:

  • Aislyn Jewett (sophomore, Northampton High School)
  • Annika Johnson (junior, Williston Northampton School)
  • Madeleine Lombard (junior, Four Rivers Charter Public School)
  • Leif Maynard (junior, Amherst Regional High School)
  • Max Shannon (homeschool student)
  • Cherilyn Strader (junior, Northampton High School)

In addition to the January 8 class offered at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, MA, we will also offer a teen climate lobby class offered in Greenfield, MA on Sunday, March 25.

Crossing County Lines: Reflections from a Truth School Participant

by Celia Lang

I have attended five Truth School classes since June 2017 and I am moved to share some thoughts and reflections with the wider Truth School “family .”  I was first made aware of the Sojourner Truth School classes through local ally organization emails and Facebook posts. My initial attraction was to learn for myself some new activist and movement-building skills, but Truth School has offered me so much more than that.

As a 30+ year resident of Northampton, I was glad to see class locations south to Springfield and north up through Greenfield.  The simple act of finding my way to class locations in towns that I do not frequently visit challenged my comfort zone, offered new opportunities for me to meet other activists up and down the Pioneer Valley, and to recognize that valuable cross-county dialogue and building individual and organizational allies is happening all over the Valley.

In addition to learning new skills at Truth School, I hope all those involved know the great success there is in people realizing their own personal activism goals by simply getting involved in the classes.  This open, welcoming format encourages everyone on every level to show up, to get clear, and to get active. We are making connections with each other, making plans, and making our voices heard.

In Springfield, I attended Organizing Beyond Silos at the UMass Center.  Even though it’s only 20 minutes from my home, I had not been in downtown Springfield in over a year. The Truth School got me there. I knew no one when I walked in the room, and left feeling inspired by a new crew of Springfield area activists I might not have ever met. Since that first workshop, I have seen these same activists at other community events.  Also in Springfield, I attended Poetry as Resistance & Inspiration at Arise for Social Justice. I had known about Arise for 20 years, but had never stepped into their office until I went to this Truth School class. At both classes, I ended up exchanging email addresses and connecting with others to follow-up on ideas shared.

Up in Greenfield, I attended Rise Up & Speak Out and again found myself in a room with people I might not have ever met if not for Truth School. Over and over, I see how the Truth School offers time and space for individuals to connect, share expertise, and build momentum for many local and global issues in need of champions.

In Northampton, I attended Publish or Perish and Old People! Expressing Our Radical Selves in the Final Third of Life. In all the classes, I appreciated the expertise of the facilitators, and the diversity of their backgrounds. It is great to see academics from the five colleges and clergy from the community, as well as so many others, sharing their expertise. In the introductions around the room in each class, I have been struck by how participants came crossing town lines, age, and experience differences to meet, to share, and to build communication and activism skills.

These classes cannot happen without facilitators willing and able to organize a class, however we all seemed to come with our own expertise, opinions, stories, and struggles to share.  For that opportunity to network with each other, I am grateful to Truth School.

If I had the time I would have attended all 46 of the classes this fall! The class descriptions in the catalogue all looked great. I make a commitment to a small donation for each class I attend and I have become a champion for the organization, promoting the Truth School though my own networks.

There is more work to be done. I am looking forward to the winter cycle of classes and will, in the future, challenge myself to submit a class proposal for consideration, too.

Thanks to everyone for making this happen!

Note from the Truth School: Thank you, Celia! Students like you make our school a wonderful community-building resource!

We love hearing from our students and learning about your experiences in our classes. If you would like to submit a reflection, please email it to you post about your experiences on social media and would like to share those with us, please tag us with @truthschoolma on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

A Space for Trans Community Building

On November 30, members of the local transgender community had an opportunity to gather in Holyoke to share ideas and strategize about movement building.

Pastor Louis Mitchell sitting on a couch holding a silver and black soccer ball with text written on it.
Trainer Louis Mitchell considers questions on the “ice breaker” ball.

Trainers Toby Davis and Louis Mitchell led participants in exercises designed to map out a process for achieving desired outcomes for current concerns.

Trainer Toby Davis standing in front of chart paper on a white wall.
Toby Davis, M.Ed., asked participants to talk about what they most needed from the trans movement-building space.

In January, Davis will offer another class designed to support and connect members of the transgender community. Communi-T: Fostering Resilience for Trans, Nonbinary and Gender Nonconforming Activists will be offered on January 11 in Springfield.

Inclement weather policy

In case of snow or other severe weather, check the Truth School website and your email before going to class. Cancellation notices will appear at the top of the website and will be sent to registered students by email as far in advance as possible. Occasional late cancellations may occur without notice due to factors beyond our control.

Always check weather conditions and make the best decision for your own safety. 

Support Our Leadership Forum for Women of Color

And Still We Rise, our six-month Women of Color leadership forum created by Truth School steering committee member Jennifer Matias, is going strong! In fact, more women than anticipated have joined and are looking ahead to another cycle of the groundbreaking forum.

Truth School covers the basic costs of all of our classes, including compensating our teachers. Some classes benefit from extra support, though; And Still We Rise is one with needs that exceed usual costs and which serves a unique purpose in supporting Women of Color in leadership. In order to more fully support this work and the Women of Color who are part of its community, Truth School is joining with the forum’s YouCaring campaign to raise funds to cover needed facilitators, materials and meals.

Why it matters: Despite making up 20% of the current U.S. population, Women of Color are grossly underrepresented in leadership roles in this country, in the private and nonprofit sectors, as well as in government. In addition, Women of Color suffer from a lack of networks and mentors. And Still We Rise is a step toward remedying that imbalance.

Increasing the number of Women of Color in leadership roles is a matter of justice and equity,” says Jennifer Matias—and we agree! Please join us in supporting this leadership forum by making a donation to the And Still We Rise YouCaring site.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum Returns to Northampton

We were pleased to welcome Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum back to the Pioneer Valley  recently. Dr. Tatum, a Truth School Advisory Board member,  gave an insightful and inspiring talk at Edwards Church on October 18. It was standing room only, with attendees overflowing into the halls. The lively event included a performance by Amandla Chorus, a local group that sings “to celebrate life and to articulate social concerns.”

The evening’s talk was co-sponsored by the Truth School and Broadside Books, which quickly sold out of copies of Dr. Tatum’s new book, the 20th anniversary edition of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.

If you missed the opportunity to purchase a copy of the book, stop in to Broadside Bookshop at 247 Main St., Northampton, or order online on the Broadside website. Copies are also available at Forbes Library and other local libraries—but you may have to place a hold to read the popular book.

Photos ©2017 Travis Tatum

Truth School Students Learn Campaigning Skills

One of the popular themes of Truth School classes is running for public office.  This September, sixteen Truth School students learned the Nuts and Bolts of Campaigning from two of our expert trainers with decades of combined experience: Clare Higgins, former city councilor and mayor of Northampton and the current executive director of Community Action, and Elizabeth Silver, chair of the
Northampton Democratic City Committee
and a seasoned local coordinator for local, state, and national campaigns.

The trainers covered a lot of ground in the three-hour class, including personal considerations to keep in mind, budget information, messaging and media. After the class, many participants noted their appreciation for the concrete information, as well as the trainers’ candor. Citing the practicality of the information provided, one student noted, “It was not driven by idealism.”

This fact-based and skills-focused approach is a key component of the Truth School’s methodology. Preparing social change leaders to win movement struggles requires the sharing of information and development of hands-on skills. Many thanks to the day’s trainers, Clare Higgins and Elizabeth Silver, for their past and present service and continued leadership!

For those interested in running for office, the following upcoming classes may be of interest:

Teens Testify for Renewable Energy

by Lilly Lombard, Truth School Advisory Board member and Project Administrator

Three teens trained through the Truth School in climate change lobbying traveled to the Massachusetts State House September 19 to testify in favor of An Act Transitioning Massachusetts to 100 Percent Renewable Energy and two other bills that would strengthen the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards.

After having an office visit with their state representative, Peter Kocot, the teens delivered powerful oral testimonies to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy (TUE) in a hearing room packed with hundreds of concerned citizens. The bills must be first favorably read by the TUE before moving to the House and Senate floors for a vote.

Forming a youth panel, each teen told a personal story of the impact climate change has had on their lives and outlook.

Truth School teens formed a youth panel to testify at the State House - photo shows three teens at a table with lawmakers in front of them and adult audience members packing the room

15-year-old Max Shannon of Amherst explained, “The air quality in the Pioneer Valley has a grade of ‘F.’ And, as you may know, formation of ozone—the main ingredient of smog—is heat-dependent. Now, I’m a homeschooler, Max Shannon, flanked by Aislyn Jewett and Madeleine Lombard, speaking while seated at a table in front of lawmakersso I don’t know much or care much about grades… b​ut I care about this grade! Two of my sisters suffer from severe asthma. As temperatures rise, what air quality worse than ‘F’ can they look forward to? What is more fundamental than air?”​

​Aislyn Jewett, a sophomore at Northampton High School, described how upsetting it was for her to watch footage of the thousands of animals that drowned in the recent hurricanes, Harvey and Irma.​

“​One particularly striking image showed a small dog chained to a post in the middle of a rushing mass of floodwater, stranded and abandoned and facing imminent death,” said Aislyn. “It brought tears to my eyes to envision what she must have felt in that moment.”​

“So​ when people argue that the costs are too great to push renewable energy standards in this legislative session, do they consider all the costs?” Aislyn asked. “Do they consider the costs of waiting while global warming intensifies? Do they consider the costs that will be imposed on my generation? On innocent animals? O​n low-income communities who will suffer much more greatly from extreme weather, food shortages, housing destruction, and poor health?”

Madeleine Lombard testifies, seated at a table beside Max Shannon and Aislyn Jewett, facing lawmakers and surrounded by adult audience members16-year-old Madeleine Lombard, a self-professed “plant nerd,” challenged the committee, “I plan on dedicating my professional life to harnessing plants to help solve climate change. You can dedicate your careers to harnessing politics to help solve climate change!​ Model courage and focus and persistence to young people!”​

All three ended their testimonies with this plea: “​Do everything in your power to pass strong climate legislation this session!”​
Teens Max Shannon, Madeleine Lombard and Aisling Jewett jump in the air outside the Massachusetts State House after delivering their testimony in favor of renewable energy

Training of Trainers for New and Experienced Teachers [Photos]

The Truth School held its Training of Trainers for the fall session on September 5 and September 7. New and returning trainers joined our founder and director, Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, for these important workshops that ensure all Truth School trainers know everything they need to know about the school, their roles, and creating the dynamic and engaging classrooms our students are seeking.

Training of Trainers - September 5, 2017 Training of Trainers - September 5, 2017 Training of Trainers - September 5, 2017
Training of Trainers - September 5, 2017 Training of Trainers - September 5, 2017
Training of Trainers - September 5, 2017