During the 1960s, the civil rights struggle was at its peak and Birmingham, Alabama, was in the spotlight. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, civil rights activists came up with a new idea, the Birmingham Pledge, to help stop violence and racism. People from all around the world have joined together to help make this possible. Some famous people who have signed the pledge are presidents Clinton and Bush, Oprah Winfrey, and the Pope. A copy even hangs in the Taj Mahal, India. So, when we first thought of the idea at Westover High School, it seemed like a great way to add to the National Youth Violence Prevention Week activities.
Westover High is a highly diverse school with a 65% African American student population in Fayetteville, North Carolina. As it is also near Fort Bragg, some 25% of the students come from military- related families.
FreshStart (tm) is a freshman mentoring program started in 2001 by students Amelia Hummel and Brandon Robinson. It has an executive board of about 10 juniors and seniors each year. Membership in FreshStart usually exceeds 100 members. Everyone logs in at least 30 hours of mentoring. Some members are also Homeroom Representatives, and these "reps" go to Freshmen homerooms twice monthly to give information and act as mentors to new ninth grade students at Westover High.
Natasha Dorris was elected to the FreshStart executive board in September of 2002. Each board member is encouraged to seek out other worthwhile projects and is given opportunities to promote leadership and diversity at Westover High. Natasha, on recommendation of her guidance counselor, Dawn Holt, researched and presented the pledge.
With the help of her fellow FreshStart members, Natasha coordinated with the faculty and staff to have Reps in each classroom to explain and elicit signatures. On April 9, over 1000 students and faculty members learned about the Birmingham Pledge and signed it to "discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity, and to treat all people with dignity and respect."
Natasha explains, "FreshStart members met in the school cafeteria on a Monday afternoon to decide how to get the whole school involved in The Pledge. With a total of 52 homerooms, many different people and clubs came together. Each student was assigned a homeroom and given copies of the pledge and background information to read to all the students. On Wednesday, April 9th, everyone in the school was informed about the Pledge. Students, staff and faculty each took a moment to sign it. This marked the time when everyone at Westover united and became one. With over a thousand signatures it shows that our school is not going to let racism occur. Next year, we plan to get everyone in the community involved. We greatly encourage everyone to get involved."
Counselor Dawn Holt writes, "Natasha wants to add a Study Circles program to the curriculum. Due to the success of this project, we hope to make this an annual event. We will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of our efforts."
Visit birmingham-pledge.org to sign your own pledge.
The Birmingham Pledge
- I believe that every person has worth as an individual.
- I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.
- I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others. Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.
- I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.
- I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.