New York Trip – Meeting with Mark Levy

This from Mrs Taylor-Crooke:

“As part of our trip to The Big Apple we were fortunate enough to meet Mark Levy, a former social studies teacher turned organiser and long-time US civil rights campaigner. Mark regularly talks to UK students on educational tours in the US and occasionally visits the UK to work in schools and talk about the US civil rights movement from the point of view of a (still active) ‘veteran’.

He shared many a detailed story with the students and answered their questions about his involvement in the Mississippi Freedom Schools. Mark described, ‘When I was in my twenties, a newly minted college graduate yet to start my first year as a teacher, I was one of about 1,000 college students, teachers, lawyers, musicians and actors, doctors and nurses, and others from around the country who responded to a request by local, Black Mississippians to help during the summer of 1964 with voter registration, Freedom Schools and other initiatives. As out-of-state, summer volunteers – idealistic and committed, but naïve – we had to be oriented and trained.’

Freedom Schools took place in churches, on porches, in storefronts, or wherever students of all ages and their communities could find.  They taught art, history, politics, writing and poetry.  The young white volunteers’ training was led by Black Americans to listen, ask questions, help identify problems and needs, share experiences, fears, and hopes, and try to figure out, together, how to build a better world. ‘We were told to respect and appreciate our students and what they brought to the Freedom Schools – and to see them as future leaders.’

Mark and his (first) wife Betty lived with an African American couple, Mrs Dessie Turner and her husband. ‘Mrs Turner was a quiet person, she wouldn’t speak at meetings, march in demonstrations, or carry a sign.  She risked her job, her home, and possibly her life for doing what she did, but she never considered herself as especially brave or as any kind of “activist” or “leader”.’   This was truly inspiring for our students.  Highlighting the importance of upstander rather than bystander behaviour and how we can all play a role, no matter how small we perceive our personal impact on others to be.  Our interaction with others in Society and what makes us behave the way we do are what we focus upon in Social Psychology.  This story enlightened our students to understand, with some encouragement and support, how many of them could contribute like Mrs Turner did?  How many of our neighbourhoods and communities have their own Mrs Turners to learn from – and about?

After his talk, whilst the students paused for a toilet break and refreshments, before we were to embark upon our walking tour of Harlem, myself and Mr Manifold shared our thanks with Mark.  I was surprised to learn he hadn’t heard about the work of esteemed Social Psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt ‘Policing Racial bias’.  I promised to send him the link.

Mark embodied everything Wellington School stands for, to teach about the empowerment of ‘Ordinary people . . . Ordinary people, working together, can accomplish extraordinary things.’

The struggle for social justice is ongoing, in the US and everywhere.  We are privileged to have had the opportunity of meeting Mark with his decades of experience as a teacher and campaigner for human rights.  Mark ended his talk to the students with one simple sentence  ‘Now it’s your turn’ this most certainly gave them a lot to be thinking about.”