Lower and Middle School students formed the club to focus on ways they can contribute to social change at an early age.
By Sierra Smith, Communications Specialist
Over the summer, USN held parent meetings to provide insight on talking to children about the movement for Black lives and the nationwide protests that erupted following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.
Third Grade Teacher Sarah Wiley listened as countless parents asked questions, shared their experiences, and relayed their concerns.
“I just kept hearing parents say, ‘What can my kid do?” Wiley shared. “I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wasn’t really raised to know what activism even was or how to be civically involved when I was a kid.”
Wiley saw an opportunity to equip USN students with the knowledge and tools she didn’t have as a child. It began informally with her encouraging interested students to write letters to Gov. Bill Lee that urged him to take down the statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
With the letter writing project behind them, students continued to express interest in civic engagement. At the start of the 2020–2021 school year, Wiley moved to formalize the club as an offering made available through After School to fourth grade students and Middle Schoolers.
“I was beyond excited when Sarah contacted me about facilitating the Young Activist Club in After School this year. These children see and hear what's happening in the world around them, there's no escaping that. They see poverty and injustice, they see politicians and protesters; it's a lot to process,” Director of After School Rebecca Stokes said. “A club like this gives them a place to talk about what they see and the tools they need to do something about it.”
According to Wiley, the activities and focus of the club have been primarily student-led. To start, they each shared the social justice and activism issues they were most passionate about. While many issues were discussed, the club’s 11 members landed on three key issues that they all agreed were pressing: Nashville’s growing homeless population, systemic racism, and climate change. Beginning with homelessness, the club will carve out time to focus on each of the three key issues throughout the year. They started by holding a drive to collect socks and other essentials they’ll include in packs to help local people experiencing homelessness weather winter.
Also, club members are learning about root causes and local activists to inform their work better. Wiley plans to present opportunities for students to meet and hear from community activists, as well; Ingrid McIntyre, the co-founder of Open Table Nashville and the Village at Glencliff, has already attended a meeting as a special guest.
“Knowing that these young kids are already showing such compassion and a heart for justice and equality has just filled me with hope. The initiative they’ve already taken is incredible,” Wiley said. “It makes me feel a lot more certain that our future is bright.”
Nora Ammerman ’28 was one of the first to join the club.
She shared her excitement at picking up full collection boxes outside of classrooms and talked about the things she’s learning. It’s clear that Wiley’s goal for the club is working as Nora, at such an early age, demonstrates an impressive comprehension of the causes contributing to homelessness. With great care and compassion, Nora discussed the importance of respecting those experiencing homelessness and highlighted groups often most significantly impacted.
“I just hope we help as many people as we can. That’s really all I want, it’s what I love doing,” Nora finished.
Director Vince Durnan shares a reminder of how each decision impacts the USN community and appreciation for those participating in the Vanderbilt COVID-19 study and following guidelines to keep USN's numbers low.