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be inspired to make change - citizens high school blog

Be Inspired to Make Change–and Earn Credit

October 27th marks National Civics Day, which celebrates the importance of civic education all across America. Today’s blog post will shed light on celebrity activists and well-known young civic leaders who have made a positive difference supporting various global issues. We will also explain how students’ can become involved in their community by submitting a civic action passion project to CHS! Anyone (prospective or current student) can submit their civic action passion project online, anytime to CHS. Keep reading to see how you can become inspired to make a difference and submit your civic action passion project today!

Celebrity Activists

Paris Hilton

Advocate for Youth Rights

The famous hotel heiress has been in the media for many reasons throughout her career but recently, she has added the title of human rights activist to her list of achievements. Paris Hilton released the documentary This is Paris on Youtube in September 2020, where she reveals the abuse she faced at Utah’s Provo Canyon School when she was 17. Recently, in October 2021, she was speaking in Washington with the nonprofit Breaking Code Silence, an advocacy group led by former treatment center residents, announcing legislation that would introduce national regulations to youth residential treatment centers. This comes after passing similar state legislation in Utah this past spring/April 2021. You can read more about that here.

The Salt Lake Tribune summarized the purpose of the bill here:

The new federal legislation, which is sponsored by Democrats Rep. Ro Khanna of California and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, would create a bill of rights to protect kids who are in congregate care facilities. Those rights would include being free from abuse and neglect, freedom from physical and chemical restraints and the right to be free from abusive or traumatizing treatment by staff or other youths. It would also emphasize data collection, and make federal funding available for states to mend systemic issues. (Miller and Fuchs, par. 6)

Paris Hilton is also an avid animal lover who has raised money DJ’ing for Animal Charities. If you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved with various animal rights issues, please continue reading this article.

Simone Biles

Advocate for Athletes and Sexual Abuse Victims

Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast, with more than two dozen Olympic and World Championship medals to her name. She, along with 3 other famous young American female gymnasts, testified at Congress September 15th claiming the FBI botched its investigation into Larry Nasser, who was a U.S. gymnastics team doctor: “More than a year after the allegations against Nassar were first brought to the FBI in 2015, he was arrested and charged by state officials. In the interim, Nassar is estimated to have abused at least 70 more athletes, according to a devastating report issued in July by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz” (Barrett).

The reason why this is important is because these young, elite female athletes decided to use their voice and work together to confront congress and their government in order to raise awareness and create change for future generations of athletes: “Congress would be able to dissolve the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Board of Directors under a new law, called the ‘Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019,’  which was passed last year in light of the Nassar sexual abuse scandal. It also holds sports officials legally accountable for protecting their athletes” (Speakman).

To learn more about this bipartisan bill that aims to protect U.S. Olympic athletes from mental, physical and sexual abuse, please click here. 

Leonardo DiCaprio

Advocate for the Environment

There really is no need to introduce this Academy-Award Winning actor, but did you know that he has been heavily involved with environmental protection since the age of 24, when he started his first foundation? Currently, he supports over 35 conservation projects worldwide that protect fragile ecosystems and key species and was honored the Clinton Global Citizen Award for his philanthropic work in 2014.

The Climate & Clean Air Coalition has a webpage dedicated to Leo since he is a 2018 Honouree. Here is a clip of that information:

 In 1998, at the age of 24, DiCaprio established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) with the purpose of raising awareness about environmental issues threatening the health of the planet and to date, has awarded over USD $80 million in grants, funding 200+ high-impact projects in 50 countries. Furthermore, DiCaprio and his Foundation have also produced a number of media projects that communicate the urgency of climate change to the public, The 11th Hour (2007) and Before the Flood (2016), which have been viewed by millions around the world. Before the Flood received 60 million views in just 3 months, making it one of the most watched documentaries in history. The LDF funds important work for a number environmental initiatives, including the Dark Snow Project, which aims to measure the impact of black carbon deposits on Arctic ice. (Climate & Clean Air Coalition, par. 3)

To read more about Leo’s accomplishments, you can view his bio here on the UN’s website

Geena Davis

Advocate for Women’s Equality in Film and Television

Geena Davis is another Academy-Award-winning actor who has turned activist on our list! She is known for her work in movies like Thelma and Louis and A League of Their Own. In the early 2000’s, she was inspired to learn more about gender equality in film and tv after noticing that most of the characters on TV for kids were male. (Fun Fact: The Teletubbies is gender-balanced, there is an equal number of female to male characters. You can learn more facts like this from Geena by listening to her podcast with NPR here.)

This article from Boston University explains how Geena started gathering data and looking into the statistics of gender equality in Hollywood:

In 2004, she decided to collect data about the portrayal of girls in media and to build a body of fact-based research that would prove her theory. When she learned that such information did not exist, she created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to begin her own in-depth research. The institute has used new technology to continuously monitor industry progress toward gender parity. Davis has spent the last 15 years delivering the results to the skeptics, disbelievers, and elite power players who would have been content to let men rule Hollywood. Forever.

THOSE RESULTS WERE as bad as, or worse than, Davis thought. In media targeting children age 11 and under, girls were appearing on screen less, and when they did appear they were hypersexualized or they spoke little. One of the institute’s earliest studies found that of the more than 4,000 characters across 400 G-rated, PG, PG-13, and R-rated movies surveyed, women were more than five times as likely as males to be shown in sexually revealing clothing (25 percent for women, versus 8 percent for men). It examined more than 1,000 shows from 12 network, public broadcast, and cable outlets—a total of 534 hours of programming in 2005—finding that male characters appeared at twice the rate of female characters in children’s TV. This was edgy and delicate work, especially in an era when women actors were subjected to one-on-one hotel room interviews.

Now Davis is getting some hard-earned recognition for her efforts to discuss unconscious bias and ingrained stereotypes a decade before they were mainstream concepts. The New York Times has noted that her institute “set the stage” for the Time’s Up movement. And last October, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Davis with the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her efforts to help change the entertainment industry. (Boston University, pars. 7–9)

In 2018, Geena produced This Changes Everything. The documentary discusses gender discrimination in the media and entertainment industry with other big-name actresses like Rashida Jones, Reese Witherspoon, Tiffany Haddish, Sandra Oh, and Meryl Streep to name a few. This 1h 37m documentary is streaming now on Netflix!

Her work, along with other contributors, has opened doors to things like the A.C.L.U. sending a 15-page letter to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to conduct an industry-wide federal investigation into systemic discrimination of women directors. This investigation is still ongoing. To learn more about women’s rights and equality, please view the Time’s Up Movement website here. 

Anderson Cooper

Advocate for LGBTQ Rights

Anderson Cooper is a famous American journalist most known for his work on CNN and 60-minutes. In 2010, he was awarded the National Order of Honor and Merit from Haiti for his coverage of the earthquake that devastated the country. He came out publicly as a gay man in 2012 and since then has spoken on behalf of and in support of the LGBT Community: “Cooper has tackled multiple issues relevant to the LGBT community, including bullying of LGBT youth, families supporting their transgender children, the dangers of so called ‘ex-gay conversion therapy,’ and soldiers forced to serve under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” (Clark).

He is the first out gay man to moderate a presidential debate and in 2013 was awarded the 24th Annual GLAAD Media Award. The GLAAD Media award is presented to an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender media professional who has significantly promoted equality. “’By sharing his own experiences as a gay man, Anderson has reminded millions of Americans that LGBT people are part of their everyday lives and an integral part of our cultural fabric,’ said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. ‘He continues to raise the bar and set a new standard for journalists everywhere, and I’m proud to call him a friend’” (“Madonna to Present Anderson Cooper with Vito Russo Award at 24th”).

You can learn more about other famous LGBTQ Trailblazers from this article.

Peter Dinklage

Advocate for Animal Rights

The last celebrity activist on our list is another talented actor. He is well known for his role in Game of Thrones as Tyrion Lannister but in real life he is an animal rights activist and vegetarian. In 2015, he joined Cruelty Free International in welcoming the introduction of the Humane Cosmetics Act, which aims to end the practice of testing on animals for cosmetic purposes. 

If you visit PETA’s website, you can find a wealth of information about animal welfare and safety. Their tagline is “Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” One of the movements right now on PETA’s website that students’ can look into is the movement to end speciesism. You can learn more about that topic here.

Currently, Peter appears in 71 search results on PETA’s website, advocating for various animal rights issues like disapproving horse-drawn carriages in NY to promoting veganism, and more! You can learn more about him and the rest of the cast and crew from the Game of Thrones that are animal lovers and vegetarians by clicking here.

If you would like to learn more about helping animals and submitting your idea for a passion project, Cruelty Free International is a great resource to start with. You can learn more here. You can also raise money by starting your own fundraiser and simply walking, running or swimming. Donations would go towards Cruelty Free International. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Young Civic Leaders

Amanda Gorman

Amanda S. C. Gorman is an American poet and activist. Her work focuses on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora. Gorman was the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. She published the poetry book The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough in 2015.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, often referred to mononymously as Malala, is a Pakistani activist for female education and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She is also the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate, and second Pakistani.

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish environmental activist who is known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation.

How to Submit your Passion Project to CHS

Submitting a passion project is easy! The most important thing is to support a cause that you care about. We put together a list as a starting point to help student’s decide what they would like to submit. Details below:

Crime and Safety

  • Bullying Prevention
  • Animal Cruelty
  • Drug Abuse Prevention
  • Internet Safety
  • Sexual Assault Prevention
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Mental Health Awareness

Social Justice

  • LGBTQ Rights & Advocacy
  • Immigration
  • Preventing Hate Crime and Racism
  • Financial Equality and Sustainable Banking
  • Healthcare Reform
  • Accessibility for those with Disabilities
  • Houselessness
  • Food Insecurity

Environment

  • Climate Change
  • Air & Water Quality in your Neighborhood
  • Recycling
  • Water Pollution
  • Transportation
Once you have decided what cause you would like to support, you need to figure out how to do it! Margo is our Academic Pathways Coordinator and in 2018 she raised $685 by walking 52 miles off the coast of South Texas for the nonprofit Limbs for Life so that they could provide a new prosthetic to an amputee in need. To see her project, please see the slideshow above! You can do this, too, by tapping into the power of technology! The following brands enable users to support their favorite charities and causes by simply moving and becoming physically active:
Citizens High School is a partner with Civics Unplugged, a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) social enterprise that empowers the leaders of Gen Z to build a brighter future for humanity. You can view project ideas on their website and submit them to CHS by clicking here.

Questions?

If you are interested in submitting a passion project but are still unsure about what topic to choose or what will qualify as credit, simply email our Director of Pathways, Margo Dekoch at mdekoch@citizenshighschool.com

Works Cited

  • Barrett, Devlin. “Simone Biles to Congress: ‘I Blame Larry Nassar, and I Also Blame an Entire System.’” Washington Post, 15 Sept. 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/gymnasts-nassar-fbi-investigation-hearing/2021/09/14/de4832cc-159f-11ec-9589-31ac3173c2e5_story.html.

  • Boston University. “Geena Davis, Leading the Fight for Gender Parity in Hollywood | Bostonia.” Boston University, www.bu.edu/articles/2020/geena-davis. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

  • Clark, Cindy. “Anderson Cooper to Be Honored by LGBT Community.” USATODAY, 21 Feb. 2013, eu.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2013/02/20/anderson-cooper-to-be-honored-by-lgbt-community/1934291.

  • Climate & Clean Air Coalition. “Leonardo DiCaprio.” Climate & Clean Air Coalition, www.ccacoalition.org/en/content/leonardo-dicaprio. Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

  • “Madonna to Present Anderson Cooper with Vito Russo Award at 24th.” GLAAD, 2 Mar. 2013, www.glaad.org/releases/madonna-present-anderson-cooper-vito-russo-award-24th-annual-glaad-media-awards-new-york.

  • Miller, Jessica, and David Fuchs. “Paris Hilton and Activists Brought Change to Utah’s ‘Troubled-Teen’ Industry. Now, They Are Pushing for a New Federal Law.” The Salt Lake Tribune, 21 Oct. 2021, www.sltrib.com/news/2021/10/20/paris-hilton-activists/https://www.sltrib.com/news/2021/10/20/paris-hilton-activists.

  • Speakman, Kimberlee. “Simone Biles And Other Gymnasts Reportedly Call On Congress To Remove U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Board.” Forbes, 14 Oct. 2021, www.forbes.com/sites/kimberleespeakman/2021/10/13/simone-biles-and-other-gymnasts-reportedly-call-on-congress-to-remove-us-olympic–paralympic-committees-board/?sh=14a249c56ba5.

Korey McNulty

Korey McNulty

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