BY KARISSA THURN
Eighth grade, NCSS
In a little town like Rhinelander, when we attend school, it may be easy to forget that Martin Luther King Junior Day is a holiday, but the School District of Rhinelander found an inspiring way to celebrate the day. Lecia Brooks, an employee from The Southern Poverty Law Center and director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala., an interpretive center designed to provide visitors to the Civil Rights Memorial with a deeper understanding of the civil rights movement, came to the School District of Rhinelander Monday to speak to the students at James Williams Middle School, Northwoods Community Secondary School and Rhinelander High School.
As we sat down in morning circle, we got a sweet surprise. We found out we were getting to meet a speaker who came all the way from Montgomery, Ala. To prepare us to hear her presentation, our advisor, Mrs. Higgins, showed us a clip of Ms. Brooks. We watched a short speech she uploaded to YouTube in which she shared a campaign from Poland called the “No Hate Campaign.” It featured a logo with a simple red heart and the words “No Hate.” In the speech she spoke about the importance of freedom of speech while also calling attention to responsibilities that we have that go with our rights.
We all walked down to the auditorium and took our seats, anxiously waiting for our speaker. Mr. Losch introduced Lecia Brooks. Brooks’ joyful spirit and humble heart brought good vibes to the room as she began talking about Martin Luther King Day, bringing her anti-bullying messages of peace.
Brooks brought students to the front of the audience to talk about Martin Luther King and they shared their knowledge of the legendary man. She shared quotes, photos and speeches of MLK. Then, she changed the topic to bullying, inviting students to come to the front of the audience to share experiences with bullying. Some courageous kids went on stage and shared their stories, giving forgiveness and opening their humble hearts. We finished the seminar by saying that we’d commit to stopping bullying by “interrupting, questioning, educating, echoing,” and headed back to our room to talk about what we liked about the seminar.
We had the impromptu treat of getting a question-and-answer session with Ms. Brooks in our own classroom. We offered her a comfortable chair to sit in, so she knew we appreciated her. She sat down and we dove right in. A classmate is studying Rosa Parks, and Brooks answered some questions about her. The topic then leaned more towards equal rights. She stated her views about the difference between equity and equality and some facts about the issues. We took a short break for lunch and were lucky enough to have more time with her after lunch. We dove right back in. We let her take the wheel and teach us about what she does at The Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s an organization that works to remove/prevent hate crimes while also tracking and mapping hate groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center also defends victims of hate crimes and works to bring persecutors to justice. She informed us about hate crimes that were committed after President Trump was elected and why groups who are for and against Trump commit such acts. We each got a chance to ask questions about these hate crimes. After we wrapped it up we got to take a photo with Brooks. I admire her as far as her love and kindness reach, she has a huge heart. I adore her courage to share her views and stand up for everyone.