Video contest powers up students’ drive

I will long remember riding the train to New York City in the spring a year and a half ago, sitting with a group of students from Saratoga BOCES who had just won the first ever Speak Truth to Power video competition. There was Sean in his new aqua-colored dress shirt, and Sarah with her pink hair, and Angie, who taught her aunt how to recycle plastic bags into purses, like the students did. There were the teachers and School-Related Professionals who had helped the students create a video on African tree-planter and environmentalist Wangari Maathai. Not only did this group portray her in words and original song for their video, but they pursued  Maathai’s passion of recycling, turning a room in their school into a plastic and craft recycle room. There was the rhythmic rackrackrack of the train swaying on the tracks and the pitched yackyackyack of students traveling to the Big City to pick up an award at the Tribeca Film Festival. And yes, they stood on the red carpet.

Last year I was honored to meet a group of girls from Brooklyn who created a dramatic, stark video about sex trafficking, focusing on human rights defender Juliana Dogbadzi.  Their video was also shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, and they traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet several thousands unionists at the NYSUT Representative Assembly.

This year’s contest begins this week, and it is open to students in the United States grades 6-12 who have until January to finish their 3-6 minute storytelling videos. Educators are always looking for ways to open students eyes, to fire them up, and to connect the lessons in the classroom with the teachings of  life. This video competition, using elements from the Common Core, provides that very opportunity. Not to mention, it gives students a chance to use the gadgets so many of them crave. It gives them a chance to power up in more ways than one.

The Speak Truth to Power competition is used by educators as class projects in global studies, history, English, communications, technology and other relevant classes. The parameters are already in place: students choose a human rights defender from the organization’s biographies of heroes who are changing the world – halting bullying, improving the environment, saving the lives of young girls targeted in sex trafficking, advocating for disarmament, working to provide rights for domestic violence victims and establish proper prosecution for perpetrators, and much more. For every country on the spinning globe, there are  many causes that need attention.

Speak Truth to Power is part of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.For teachers and SRP’s willing to work on the project, help is available around the state. Practical information is provided on the web site at, and the Tribeca Film Institute itself is providing workshops this fall at locations throughout New York. Further information on locations and dates will be available at and at

The project does not begin and end with the making of a video: the goal is to make students into human rights defenders in their own communities and connect them with activism.

For the contest, students can submit documentary, stop motion, narrative, digital  photo essay or other original filmmaking creations.

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