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"Own Your History"

A leadership course on the creative edge

1.Inheritances, Awareness and Leadership: How the past affects me and my future

c2Students will explore their family history to understand where and how they and their forebears fit onto the overall American historical narrative—and thus their own connection to the American historical experience considered in depth in this course.


How we each deal with our family and social inheritances—our history? How do we shape a better future for ourselves and our communities?


HISTORY and DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITY: Inheritances (1) –Every aspect of your life is affected by American history—the American Story. In this activity, the focus is on historical “inheritances” in our society that have fundamentally affected all aspects of our day-to-day lives.  Students will explore and ask questions about the historical choices that have helped shape their lives: the nature and quality of their housing, schools, neighborhood, recreation, arts, sports, and cultural facilities. They will (1) read and respond in writing to three autobiographical remembrances about the circumstances in which the author grew up and (2) complete sections of a worksheet that looks at the circumstances of their own lives (housing, school, jobs, neighborhood, etc.) to see how past decisions and choices (history)  directly affect their lives today.

DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITY: Biography Assignment. This activity helps students visualize what they would like to do with their lives, including how they might show “leadership,” by projecting themselves to age 85 and then looking back at their lives.

HISTORY and DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITY: Family history and historical awareness. The purpose of this activity is for students to explore their personal and ancestral histories in ways that helps them locate their personal connections and that connects their personal/ancestral histories to important movements and events in the American Stories: treatment of immigrants and the recurring debates about rules and policies on admitting more people from around the world, movement within the US (East to West, South to North, farm to city, city to suburb, etc.), major economic developments, such as the Great Depression of the 1930s, wartime and service in war, etc.

DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITY: Introduction to leadership: Identifying leaders and leadership qualities – What is leadership? What makes a good leader?

2. Youth leadership — Brainstorming leadership qualities and assessing
examples of young leaders

Each can be a leader at any age. Studentprogressthrough ownerships will begin to identify leadership qualities by looking at examples of youth leaders (e.g., TED talks or similar presentations by youths) with reference to six principles of leadership, which will be assessed continually throughout the Course.


What leadership qualities and skills can you identify in various videos of young innovators/leaders?


Based on video presentations about the initiatives of several young people, you will assess their leadership. You also will search for videos of other youth you find inspiring and assess them.

3. What is leadership? What makes a good leader?

vcvbStudents will further explore their own qualities as a leader.


What is your “WHY”—your passion, your goal? How would you (initially) assess yourself with reference to the leadership principles? Why are principles important? What specific examples of your leadership
can you identify, and what are their practical implications?


(1) Experiential exercises will be used.
(2) Revise the notes for your biographer

4. Eleanor Roosevelt — American pioneer: “Leadership from the side”

We all have family and personal “inheritances” (in family stories, attitudes, position in society, possibly good and bad), family “politics” especially when young, and individual strengths and weaknesses as a person. Eleanor Roosevelt was female; she was orphaned as a child; her family was wealthy and included a former President; she had a forceful charming husband (who became an invalid) and a strongly overbearing mother-in-law.



With all these inheritances, how did Eleanor Roosevelt make herself a leader, indeed the most significant woman leader in US history to that date: she made herself the first First Lady who was an important, leading public figure in her own right? How did she champion women’s rights, African-American rights, and human rights, both in the US and later in the United Nations? Using historical
and fictional examples, this module examines development of leadership qualities.



(a) Use a film about a girl taking a leadership role in a traditional society to assess leadership development and qualities and draw comparisons with Eleanor Roosevelt and her development.

(b) Historical role-play: (1) A simulated roundtable discussion about the proposed Marian Anderson concert before a mixed audience in Washington, DC, in 1939. (2) A simulated discussion about A. Philip Randolph’s proposed “march on Washington” by African-Americans in 1941 to protest discrimination in defense hiring and the issuance of an executive order. Roles in the simulations include Eleanor Roosevelt, African-American leaders, labor and business leaders, Administration figures, and members of Congress.

(c) Student team building project–small groups will identify a change or improvement needed at their school and develop a strategy for leading fellow students to advance that goal.

5. John Lewis—Young bold leadership for civil rights.

How a sharecropper’s son took ownership of his history and as a young man became a grassroots leader for nonviolent resistance to Jim Crow.


How did Lewis, the son of an Alabama sharecropper, come to own his history? What leadership qualities helped Lewis become a civil rights leader before he was 20 and play a leading role in the 1960’s Freedom Rides, March on Washington, and Selma-to-Montgomery March? What is his vision for reconciliation and how has he pursued it in his career?


(a) Developing strategies for change: Role playing in a series of meetings of members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at the time of: (1) the Nashville sit-ins and the Freedom Rides in 1960-61; and (2) after the March on Washington; the Selma-to- Montgomery March; and the emergence of advocates of Black Power in SNCC in 1966.

(b) Assess historical and film examples of youth who overcame significant personal and social obstacles to change the direction of their lives.

(c) Small group project. Each group will develop a strategy for addressing prejudice.

6. Cesar Chavez—A Latino leader for migrant rights.

How a poor Mexican-American made the plight of migrant farmworkers and the experience of Latinos more visible to the nation.


What experiences and qualities shaped Chavez as a leader? How did his methods and views compare and contrast to those of Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and other civil rights leaders? How do the social and economic conditions and US experiences of Latino-Americans and Latino immigrants compare to those of African-Americans, Asian-Americans and other minorities. What is unique about the Latino experience, historically and today?


(1) Overview of Latin American immigration into the US—countries of origin, causes, goals, methods, issues, and changes over time.

(2) Role playing roundtable discussing the decision to use the grape strikes of the 1960s, organize the United Farm Workers, and use other tactics, and assessing Chavez’ role as leader.

(3) Student small group projects on citizenship and immigration.

7. The World War II Japanese- American internment: Leaders, crisis, and lessons

We all confront “crises” in our personal life, school, community or as a citizen of the country. The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment of Japanese –American citizens during World War II were crises not only for the nation and many communities, but also of course for affected individuals and families. The range of responses to the wartime events and the postwar responses toward Japanese-Americans, both officially and in the community, allow consideration of the possibility of “owning the crisis” and for reconciliation afterwards. This history also provides a springboard for considering crisis responses by individuals and communities.


How did a variety of Americans respond to these crises? How do you think you would have responded at the time, if a US leader, a California leader, a Japanese –American, or a white next-door neighbor of a Japanese –American? [ask this question at the very beginning of this module, and then again at the very end. ]


(1) Responses to the war crisis after Pearl Harbor: President, military, California leaders, California citizens, Japanese-Americans, Hawaiians: Each will give a press conference on the crisis and his/her
response in 1942. How was the “enemy” identified, and why? Assess each with the leadership principles, in this wartime context, and in light of FDR’s Four Freedoms.


(2) Response to internment, 1943: (a) a camp meeting of interned Japanese–Americans; (b) a meeting of concerned citizens, including range of white California residents and lawyers for Japanese –Americans.

(3) Postwar responses—reconciliation?: town meeting with US and California officials, community leaders and ordinary folks, both white and Japanese –American advocates for reconciliation and reparations. How do you turn “enemies” into “allies” with whom you can have a positive working relationship?

(4) Student project on coercion/bullying (part 1). Starting questions: Has this module affected how you would react to: seeing a classmate being bullied; being in a school/peer group and disagreeing with the prevailing views/position of the group; reacting to an authority figure [teacher, principal, police] treating [e.g.,] a person of color, woman, LGBT person, through word, attitude, or action based upon stereotyping or other views unrelated to the actual facts of the situation? How can a person, community, country act to “own” a crisis and deal with coercion/bullying ?

8 . Nelson Mandela and Reconciliation in South Africa

This unit focuses on a great leader for reconciliation –Nelson Mandela. After more than two decades of severe imprisonment under the brutal white supremacist Apartheid regime, he became the leader for the majority-rule post-Apartheid South Africa and implemented a policy of reconciliation through a formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. His performance in the context of this South African history is a study in creative and bold leadership. His pursuit of reconciliation as a means for
addressing the horrific Apartheid regime, while also building bridges to the future, is an important model for the world.

8A. Background:

(a) Development of a non-slave Apartheid system in South Africa


What led to the establishment, maintenance and changes in the segregation/apartheid system between 1910 and 1990, including labor status/conditions, education, residential segregation, social rules in mixed race areas (e.g., cities) and tribal areas? What opportunities did Africans have? How did this Apartheid compare to segregation/Jim Crow in the US? Prior to 1990, what forces for changes were there in South Africa, and outside it?


Student pairs will make Presentations about specific subtopics; also Presentations about the international response/boycott in the 1970s-80s; Presentations about economic and social developments in South Africa today.

(b) Overview of Mandela’s life


How did Mandela prepare for leadership when growing up? How did he exercise leadership during apartheid, in the transition from prisoner to President, and in establishing a new post apartheid government? Why and how did he develop his vision for reconciliation?


Pairs will make Presentations about specific aspects of Mandela’s life.

8B. Robben Island imprisonment—Leadership in confinement

Everyone is subject to constraints, limits, and at times coercion of some sort: rules and authority figures; financial/economic position; peers/social groups; an individual’s feelings/view of herself/himself, etc. Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) colleagues were subject to all of these limits during their virtually absolute confinement for many years.



How did these experiences shape the leadership qualities, skills and methods of Mandela and his fellow ANC prisoners?


(1) Pairs presentations from the perspectives of prisoners, guards, wardens, government officials. A roundtable discussion among prisoners; pairs presentations on personal qualities and issues when managing a highly constrained environment.
(2) Student project on coercion/bullying (part 2): small group projects on examples of collective actions for change: strikes, boycotts, embargoes, nonviolent actions and demonstrations.

8C. The South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission

137688-004-EC2CD3EBThe Mandela government established a South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SA TRC) to examine the oppression and abuses under Apartheid, allow perpetrators to acknowledge their actions, and promote forgiveness among victims. This process has been a model used in other countries, such as Rwanda and Canada, as well as in a few US communities.


How did the SA TRC pursue these goals? Is reconciliation between oppressors and their victims possible—what is necessary for each person to advance genuine reconciliation and what are the obstacles? what is the role for social institutions (government, schools, unions, churches, civic organizations, the arts, etc.)? What is the relationship between reconciliation and justice?



(a) a roundtable discussion among Mandela, Tutu, white government leaders, ANC leaders; (b) small groups reenactments with pairs representing a specific victim, the oppressor, and a TRC moderator (based on actual examples)

9. “Half-time” – Leadership in Pop Culture and Society–identifying and assessing leadership styles and methods of figures in diverse areas of American culture and society

c13Leaders of varying sorts (pop music, sports, film, the arts, etc.) and with varying styles are all around us and often play powerful roles in shaping our culture, and thus our history; they become leaders and show leadership qualities in a myriad of ways.


How does assessing leadership by pop culture figures help you understand and assess your own leadership qualities and qualities/skills you would like to develop further?

null (1)Methods:

Students will pick a pop culture figure and have great latitude to make a presentation on that figure—a dialogue with another figure; a Presentation (report, poster, performance); an
Improv/skit embodying the character, etc.







10. The Revolutionary Generation and slavery, 1776-1800—realities, ideals, contradictions, and leadership

The greatest collection of leaders in US history led the American Revolution and established a bold, novel republican form of government under the Constitution. They both espoused a natural rights credo centered on equality and rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and accepted the perpetuation of the institution of slavery for hundreds of thousands of African slaves, which existed in almost all parts of the new country.



Why did they make the choices they did between 1776 and 1800? How did their choices and decisions help shape future consideration of slavery? Why could they not develop a viable long-term plan for dealing with slavery in keeping with the values of the Declaration of Independence?


(1) Student pairs will re-create debates at the Continental Congress in 1776, at the Constitutional Conventionaa-300x95 (1) in 1787, and especially in the debate in the first Congress in 1790 on the Quaker anti-slavery petitions.

(2) Student project: small group projects on historical or present examples concerning decisions or positions about who is “American,” what it means to be “American”?

11. The American Slave Economy as the Foundation for the Growth and Prosperity of the U.S. Economy, 1780-1860

eeAfter 1800 slavery became an overwhelmingly Southern institution (even while slave ownership continued in parts of the North for many years). Even so, the Southern plantation economies were integral to the entire US economy and its strong growth before 1860. Racism was common and generally acceptable throughout the country. North, South and West were economically intertwined and the wealth and purchasing power of the South benefited countless Northern/Western manufacturers, shippers, businesses, and farmers–and thus the country as a whole. Slavery and the entire social and intellectual framework supporting it is part of our common American economic, social and attitudinal legacy.


How was the Southern slave economy intertwined with and integral to the rest of the US economy before 1860—including the slave trade, shipping (trans-Atlantic, Mississippi River, etc.), finance, capital formation, exchanges of goods and products, etc.


(1) Examination of particular examples of how the plantation slave economy was intertwined with the general US economy before 1860: slave trade; triangular trade; product-byproduct relationships between Southern producers of cotton, rice, tobacco, and Northern suppliers, financiers, insurers, shippers, etc.; role of Port of New Orleans in shipping products from Miss. Valley farms and factories. (2) Student project on values and choices

12. The “Trail of Tears” and the destruction of the Cherokee Nation

In the 1820s and 1830s, white settlers increasingly pressed for states to take control of Native American lands in the Southeast and make the land available to white settlement. The discovery of gold in north Georgia exacerbated these pressures. Efforts to negotiate a voluntary removal and sale of lands did not produce a broadly accepted agreement. In the end, in the mid-1830s the US Army undertook forced removal of Cherokees and other Native tribes. The forced march removal of the Cherokees resulted in
the death of perhaps one-fourth of the 16,000 Cherokees, many during the 2,000+ mile march in winter from Tennessee across the Mississippi River—since known as the “Trail of Tears”.


(1) A simulated Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine the origins and implementation of President Jackson’s removal decision and the human tragedy of the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to the West.

(2) Student project on cultural diversity.

13. Living in the American Racist Slave System

Slavery substantially defined the mind and character of everyone living where slaves were held, from Texas to New York, and racism affected by slavery was pervasive in all states. The meaning and effects of this system were profound for all Americans in all sections.



How did living in a racist slave economic and social system specifically affect every person in it—master, slave, participant, citizen—whether they promoted, tolerated, or resisted slavery (whether slave or free, white or black). Why did the South become so deeply committed to maintaining the existing slave system? How did the slave system affect views and attitudes outside the South? To what extent did the Southern plantation economy foster poverty for non-plantation rural whites in the South?


(1) Using films such as “Twelve Years A Slave” and “Amistad,” students will create a truth-and-reconciliation process in which a range of participants describe their lives and interact with others to explore the nature of the American slave system/society in human terms.

(2) Student project on living in fear.

14. The Abolition Movement and the End of American Slavery

Abolitionists advocated fundamental change, an end to slavery, and used a variety of strategies and leadership methods. Many abolitionists struggled to identify feasible means for addressing the needs of freed slaves. Prominent abolitionists included women and ex-slaves—persons who had very limited opportunities to be social leaders and exercise power in society at that time.



Who became an abolitionist, and why? What were the strategies, tactics, and goals/solutions proposed/advocated by various abolitionists? To what extent did the Abolitionists succeed?
What lessons about political and social change can be learned from them?


(1) Brief “lectures” (ala 1850) by ex-slaves and women about becoming an abolitionist leader.

(2) A roundtable debate among the spectrum of abolitionists concerning strategy and tactics, for achieving abolition and feasible programs for meeting the needs of freed slaves.

(3) Student project on coercion/bullying (part 3): resistance to bullying and coercion.

15. “Slavery by another name” and its consequences in the South, 1880-1920

null (2)After Reconstruction, the Southern states developed a neo-slave “Jim Crow” system of legal segregation in a society characterized by racism, race subordination, economic peonage (including a horrific convict lease system), lynchings, fear and political powerlessness for African-Americans.


Why did this system develop as it did? What were its most salient characteristics? Why did the North and federal government acquiesce? What forces for change resulted from this
system? To what extent did this system foster rural white poverty?


Students will develop a truth-and-reconciliation commission process for role-players to tell individual stories for the range of participants in this system.

(a) Truth and reconciliation commission in Birmingham, 1915— focusing on convict leasing and lynchings.
(b) Student project on race: “whiteness,” “blackness,” and ethnicity (part I)

16.American apartheid–North, 1920-1950,

In the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of black southerners moved north to escape the Southern fear-based system that denied opportunity. Race relations—including segregation, subordination, and racism —became a more significant matter nationwide. White supremacy prevailed. Progressivism and the New Deal did not address this American apartheid system, discriminatory practices and policies were prevalent, and antiblack violence occurred in cities outside the South.


In what ways were the North and West after the Great Migration similar to the South, and how did they differ? Methods: Students will develop a truth-and-reconciliation commission process for role-players to tell individual stories for the range of participants in this system.


(a) Truth and reconciliation commission in Chicago, 1935 –focusing on discrimination in jobs, education, and housing

(b) Student project on race: “whiteness,” “blackness,” and ethnicity (part II).



17. The “Other America:” Poor and Working Class Whites and Identity Politics–1890-1960

From the colonial period on, a significant number of American white people of British or European heritage have been poor and lacking the land, education, skills, or opportunities for advancement. Poor and working class whites gave impetus to Populism in the 1890s and to insurgent “white identity” political movements supporting Huey Long, George Wallace, and most recently Donald Trump.

White identity movement attitudes have tended to include mixtures of regionalism, clannishness, racism, xenophobia, fear, and class resentments. Especially during periods of economic disruption and distress, movements have coalesced around feelings that the country is not working for them. These attitudes have shaped deep divisions running through American society, as so powerfully demonstrated in 2016. A complete, objective history requires an understanding of the many Americans who join in such identity politics and the attitudes that continue to have profound effects on American politics.


How did the circumstances, fears, and aspirations of poor and working class white Americans between 1890 and 1960 fuel white identity social and political movements? What have been the effects of such movements on American politics?


  • Historical activity – Legislative-type hearing with witnesses telling their stories, aspirations and proposals for the future: Populism, KKK, White sharecroppers, 1930s insurgents, poverty in the 1950s
  • Historical and Personal Activity: Poor White Inheritances and aspirations –1920s
  • Historical and Issue activity—Labels and Epithets—What’s in a Name?


18. Post-1970 Leadership and political effectiveness — organizing for change to end discrimination based on difference: America’s unfinished business

Civil rights movements since the 1960s have expanded to address discrimination and lack of rights in fact and law among a variety of Americans—African-Americans, Latinos, women, Native
Americans, LGBT. Parallel has been the growth of “conservative” religious, civil, and political groups and activities, which have used a variety of methods to pursue their goals.


What have been the strategies, tactics, goals of these movements and groups? What are models/methods for achieving equality and nondiscrimination, and for responding to conservative
groups, going forward?


(a) a roundtable debate among current civil rights activists;
(b) a roundtable debate among current conservative group leaders concerning goals, strategies, and tactics;
(c) a student developed workshop on leadership for positive change and reconciliation, including leadership tools they need

19. The “Other America:” Poor and Working Class Whites and Identity Politics–1960-Now


How have the circumstances, fears, and aspirations of poor and working class white Americans change after 1960 and change the nature of white identity social and political movements since then? What have been the effects of these movements on American politics?


  • Historical activity – Legislative-type hearing with witnesses telling their stories, aspirations and proposals for the future: Nixon southern strategy, George Wallace presidential campaigns, busing in South Boston, economic stagnation and the 2008 Great Recession, the Tea Party, Donald Trump
  • Historical and Personal Activity: Poor White Inheritances and aspirations –2010
  • Personal Activity: Dealing with Americans whose beliefs/views are antithetical in a way that respects each’s dignity as a person



20. LGBT Rights

Until recent decades, homosexual conduct was widely criminalized and considered immoral and; it was viewed as a “mental disorder” by the medical profession. Discrimination in employment, housing, military service, etc., was common. Since the 1990s, the rights of LGBT persons to equal protection have been increasingly recognized, culminating in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality case in the US Supreme Court.


(a) Role-playing for the 1960 arrest, conviction and consequences for Smith College professors found possessing materials deemed pornographic under US postal regulations.

(b) Re-creating the1970s debate within the American Psychological Association about the medical characterization of homosexuality;

(c) Role-play of the arguments on both sides in the US district court trial concerning Proposition 8 denying marriage equality in California.

21. A New Nation of Immigrants

cvxcv-300x167The United States has always been a nation of immigrants (as FDR reminded the Daughters of the American Revolution in an address in the 1930s), but also has a long tradition of nativism and negative legal and political responses to successive waves of immigrants. The in-migration of Latinos in recent decades and the resultant dramatic increase in the Latino proportion of total US population has both revived this debate and led to significant demographic change, not only in the Southwest but also across the country.



(1) Congressional hearing on immigration law reform, 2013
(2) Sentencing hearing for an undocumented immigrant who re-entered the US in violation of a prior US court order (2014)

(3) Student small group project on immigration, law and practice in 2015.



22. Leadership and Reconciliation: Going forward after the Jordan Davis murder case

fsf-300x236Like the recent events in Ferguson, MO, Staten I, NY, Cleveland, OH, Baltimore, MD, and Charleston, SC, the killing of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, FL in 2013 (among other killings of young African-Americans) demonstrates a continued pattern of racial violence, both by ordinary citizens and police.


What does this killing and the responses of a range of persons in the community, and the outcome of the killer’s trials, teach us about the current state of race relations? What lessons can be learned? How could reconciliation emerge from these events?


(1) Students will first provide an individual response to the events, then engage in role playing to reflect the range of views in the community. (2) Students will consider how they might provide leadership for reconciliation in the aftermath. (3) Student project on race: “whiteness,” “blackness,” and ethnicity (Part III).

23. “News at 11” –Our Unfinished Business—The Perpetuation of Inequality and Discrimination in 2014

cbvcb-300x169The current news contains repeated examples of existing discrimination and inequality and thus evidences the reality of the country’s Unfinished Business in making real the Promise of America, first made by the founding Revolutionary Generation and repeatedly renewed by our leaders since then.


What aspect of Our Unfinished Business is most compelling to each student?


In the final module, the students, solo or in a group of 2 or more, will identify a recent or current example of inequality and discrimination and prepare a news report, interview, dramatic presentation, or other form of presentation about that example. A program in which the students’ presentations are given to a public audience could be the concluding activity. [If possible, post-OYH Course support could be available to help students develop initiatives addressing the problem highlighted in this final presentation.]

Following are categories and examples indicative of the scope of Our Unfinished Business; these are intended to be suggestive
, not limiting, for the students:

A. Economic activity and wealth disparity
1. Recent data on race, ethnicity, and income distribution and wealth ownership
2. Housing –public and private financing, sales practices, etc.

B. Education

1. No Child Left Behind – the Atlanta example
2. Efforts at school reform in Newark
3. 2014 California case brought by Students Matter
C. Law and Policing

1. Drug policy—arrests, sentencing
2. Stop-and-frisk
3. Policing – e.g. Ferguson and St Louis County, Staten Island, Cleveland
4. “Stand your ground” guns laws
5. Jailings for nonviolent offenses and deficiencies

us_flagD. Politics
1. Changes in voting laws
2. Apportionment and voting districts
3. Voter registration, grassroots organizing