If you turn onto Ellsworth Avenue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, you might come across a big house standing between two tall green trees. This is the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting House where the American Friends Service Committee’s Racial Justice Through Human Rights youth program meets twice each month on Sunday afternoons to learn about the importance of human rights and equality. The group is run by Scilla Wahrhaftig, the program director at the Friends Meeting House. The students come from different social and economic backgrounds, attending a number of different high schools around the city. This program is a great way for students to communicate and share their opinions and ideas with one another.
Already having accomplished their goal of making the city of Pittsburgh a Human Rights City on April 19th 2011, the group has completed a new project. Back in December and January, they participated in the “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” (IHTD) youth video competition that asks students what they would do if they could spend a trillion dollars on anything. A trillion dollars is spent every year on the U.S military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, causing other things to fall to lower levels of importance. The youth group worked non-stop and created a stop motion film called “Educating Hope,” using Legos and other props to express the importance of education.
The Pittsburgh Public school system is struggling with continuous budget cuts and lower funding, and many students are getting a poor education. The video strives to show people the importance of education and how it sets up a lifelong path for students. In this film, a high school boy is forced to change schools in his senior year because his old school has shut down. He ends up dropping out of school and joining the military. Students should not feel the need to make bad choices in life. They then showed the boy’s life path with a trillion dollars invested in education. As stated at the end of the film, “Education is the key to success.” http://www.afsc.org/video/educating-hope-if-i-had-trillion-dollars
The film was chosen for the IHTD contest and was shown at the annual film festival in Washington D.C. The group traveled to Washington from April 13th to 15th to participate in the annual IHTD leadership training organized by the American Friends Service Committee. The students learned about military spending and prepared for their meeting with members of Congress. They had the opportunity to express their concerns about funding for education when speaking with the aides of Senator Toomey and Senator Doyle. To wrap things up, the group helped to perform an action on the Washington mall where they held up poster boards showing the current military action budget, and their ideal budget if one trillion dollars went into other categories, chanting, “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.” It was a wonderful experience and they hope to attend the event next year. Now the youth group will continue to help out in the community by starting an art project that will demonstrate their views on fracking and how it affects the environment.
Maya Best, youth participant in Racial Justice Through Human Rights youth program