Students share thoughts on social issues at Soapbox NYC

Citlali Perez, a fourth grader at The Magnet School of Environmental Studies and Community Wellness, holds a sign during her speach about climate change. ( Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

New York City public school students got on their soapboxes during a public speaking competition at the New York Historical Society on Monday. 

During “SoapBoxNYC,” grade school students orated on social problems that mattered to them and shared what they thought were possible solutions. The issues included climate change, racism, homelessness and even sexual abuse. 

The speech competition  is part of the Department of Education’s Civics for All initiative, which aims to teach children about democratic principles. Middle school and high school student across the country take part in SoapBox competitions which are hosted by the Mikvah Challenge, a nonprofit that develops civics programs and curricula. 

Before the competition kicked off, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza shared some words of wisdom. Namely, he stressed that people do not need to agree with one another, or to be agreeable in order to voice their opinion. 

“You have to keep it real,” said Carranza. ” And by that I mean this… because you believe it, because you’ve lived it, because you are telling your truth, not everyone is going to like what you have to say… and that’s OK. It’s your truth.”

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza reminds kids that they don’t need to agree or be agreeable to have an opinion shortly before the city’s SoapboxNYC competition. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

One of the first students to speak was Jamie Torrez, a second grader at The Magnet School of Environmental Studies and Community Wellness, who recited her poem, “Stop racism”:

I am seven years old and I am sad to say that racism is still here today. I don’t understand why the person in the office is hurting people instead of helping stop this. Do you know what racism is?

I do. 

Racism is when somebody doesn’t like the color of somebody else’s skin. This is how we win. 

One time this girl in gym came up to me and said why are you Black?

I said why not? Black is a pretty color. You wouldn’t like it if I asked why are you white.

You see how racism makes people want to fight?

So here are some numbers. 21 percent of hate crimes are up, 23 percent of hate crimes against Jewish people are up in New York City. 

This is how we win. Kids cannot be the ones to lead adults.

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