Impact in Profile: Tori Blackburn

Impact in Profile: Tori Blackburn

On the seventh day of USC Shoah Foundation’s 100 Days to Inspire Respect education program, a series of tweets were posted by a teacher in Alabama, using the program hashtag #100Days4Respect.

“There is enough sun for everyone,” one tweet read. Another said, “Don’t hate others even if they’re different.” Still another, “Someone’s race is not their character. Don’t hate, appreciate.”

These poems and a dozen others were written by seventh graders in Tori Blackburn’s history and geography class at Pratville Christian Academy. Blackburn had assigned them 100 Days to Inspire Respect’s Day 1 resource, an IWitness activity titled My Story Matters: Power of Story. Students watch testimony clips to learn how stories have the power to strengthen human connection, then write their own six-word poems.

100 Days to Inspire Respect launched on January 20, inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s aggressive plan for his first 100 days in office. Each day, USC Shoah Foundation will release a new educational resource addressing themes of tolerance, human rights and empathy on its educational website IWitness.

Blackburn learned about the program, and IWitness itself, just a few days before her students completed the activity. A parent at her school informed the administration about USC Shoah Foundation’s 100 Days to Inspire Respect program and the school principal sent the information on to the social studies and English teachers. Blackburn was interested right away.

“For middle schoolers, it’s a big turning point in their lives and I’ve noticed they start to struggle with empathy at the middle school age, looking at things from other people’s perspectives,” she said. “That’s when bullying begins.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Blackburn's students work on Day 6 of 100 Days to Inspire Respect, "My Story Matters: Othering and Hate"

So far, Blackburn has led her students in several of the resources from the first 15 days of the program, including “Listening & Speaking/Hate” on Day 5 and “My Story Matters: Othering and Hate” on Day 6, and plans to assign her students the IWitness Video Challenge, which was the featured resource on Day 9. She intends to keep following the program throughout the 100 days.

Her students have really enjoyed watching the testimony clips that are part of each resource, Blackburn said, and connecting them to some of the current events they’ve heard about. It’s an opportunity for the students to be introduced to issues faced by survivors of genocide that don’t often affect them personally.

“Especially with the news, a lot of them have questions about all the different controversies,” Blackburn said. “[100 Days has] sparked a lot of interest in the world outside the four walls they live in. It’s been very eye opening for them; they ask, “Why would someone even do that?” They’ve been very passionate about it.”

The students have also learned a lot just by watching the survivors tell their stories, not just reading in a textbook, Blackburn added. They’ve paid close attention to the survivors’ body language and gestures, which shows the students how emotional and passionate the survivors are while telling their stories.

Blackburn said the message and resources of 100 Days to Inspire Respect are especially powerful for her students because middle school can be a difficult time. Many students deal with bullying and insecurity and need to learn the importance of being kind and accepting of others.

“It makes them look at things from a different perspective, not just the “me” perspective,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing I think they’re going to get out of it, learning to be more empathetic to others.”