About Speak Truth to Power

The Project

Speak Truth To Power, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, is a multi-faceted global initiative that uses the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights, and urge them to take action. Issues range from slavery and environmental activism to religious self-determination and political participation.

Speak Truth to Power

Speak Truth to Power

Speak Truth To Power began as a book written by Kerry Kennedy (since translated into 6 languages with more coming) and has been adapted into a dramatic production by Ariel Dorfman. The portraits of the human rights defenders by the late Pulitzer-Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams featured in the book have been made into an exhibition that has toured over twenty cities in the United States after its initial launch at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It is now displayed on four continents.

The Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum has been disseminated to hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S., Europe and Africa. The international interest in the curriculum continues to grow and to offer new partnership opportunities with donors, governments and with teachers’ unions in the U.S. A model country for this educational initiative is Italy, where the 12-week course has been taught to over 250,000 students. The human rights education curriculum is also being taught in South Africa and Romania.

Hosted by President Bill Clinton, the play, Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark, premiered at the Kennedy Center in the year 2000 starring Sigourney Weaver, John Malkovich, Kevin Kline, Giancarlo Esposito, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Rita Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Alec Baldwin and Alfre Woodard, and with musical guests Hugh Masekela and Jackson Browne. A one hour video was broadcast on PBS as part of its Great Performances Series. The play has been produced across the United States and performed by major actors in Geneva, Madrid, Barcelona, Helsinki, Rome, Milan, Seoul, Florence, Mantua, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Sydney. Notable was a performance in Doha, Qatar, transmitted live on Al Jazeera and read by ten of the most celebrated actors and singers of the Arabic world. It has also been performed by schoolchildren, college students, local heroes and even prisoners (in a major theatre in Bucharest, after rehearsals in the penitentiary). Future productions are planned for Paris, Istanbul, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Mexico.

Speak Truth To Power encourages governments, NGOs, major foundations and individuals to support human rights, and brings much-needed attention to continuing abuses. But perhaps its most lasting effect will be to demonstrate the capacity of each individual to create change.

The Curriculum

speak truth to power The Speak Truth to Power curriculum introduces general human rights issues through the stories of some remarkable people working in the field, and urges students to become personally involved in the protection of human rights.

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Human rights refer to violations as defined by international law. It is important that students have a clear idea about what is a human rights violation under the rule of law.

So what does Speak Truth to Power mean? Does it mean speaking truth to those in power or does it mean that speaking truth has power? The answer depends on how you and your students engage with this curriculum and the actions taken as a result. In reality, when truth is informed by sound learning it has power and those who are informed understand their obligation to speak truth to those in power.

This curriculum provides an overview of human rights and social justice issues in the United States and around the world. Using the Toolkit for Action, your students and the broader public will have the resources needed to address issues at the local, national and global levels.

RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (www.rfkcenter.org), is a nonprofit dedicated to Robert F. Kennedy’s vision of creating a more peaceful and just world. For almost 40 years the RFK Center has worked to advance the human rights movement through partnering with courageous grassroots defenders from around the world who have won the RFK Human Rights Award, some of whom are featured in SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER, and supporting exceptional authors and journalists whose work brings light to injustice through the RFK Book and Journalism Awards.


NYSUT (www.nysut.org), the state’s largest union, represents some 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state’s community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.


Copyright ©2010 by Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and New York Stated United Teachers (NYSUT®). All rights reserved.

Essay copyright ©2010 Kerry Kennedy. All rights reserved.

Essays and play copyright © 2008 by Ariel Dorfman. All rights reserved.

Photographs of the defenders copyright © 2000 by Eddie Adams, All rights reserved.

All photographs courtesy of and copyright to the individual photographers unless otherwise noted.

Speak Truth to Power

Director, John Heffernan
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
1367 Connecticut Ave, N.W., Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20036
Tel: 202.463.7575
Fax: 202.463.6606 www.RFKCenter.org