Spotlight: Teaching & Protecting Civil Rights

IB ImageCharlie Krich (right) is the principal attorney for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), where he has worked since 1981. He views public service, which he began as a researcher with the agency, as helping to realize Dr. King's "dream" of a more just and equal America.
 
"The world's not a bad place, but it could be better," said Krich, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Administrative & Residual (A&R) Employees Union. He believes he and his fellow state employees at CHRO are an example of the value of "banding together to try to change the world" for the benefit of others.
 
Click here to watch Krich share how CHRO helps residents seeking justice.
 
The mission of CHRO — the nation's oldest public civil rights protection agency — is to eliminate discrimination through law enforcement and establish equality and justice for all through advocacy and education. Krich points out that the commission was established the year before Dr. King first came to Connecticut as a young theological college student to work in the state's tobacco fields.
 
"Dr. King formulated a lot of his thinking on the subject of race relations based on what he saw here," said Krich. "We have a history of being more tolerant," he added, saying it's one reason why CHRO has been "steps ahead of the federal government" in protecting and enforcing civil rights.
 
Click here to learn more about Dr. King's experience in Connecticut.
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James Flynn (above, left) and David Manware (above, right) are, respectively, the social studies department leaders at O.H. Platt High School and Lincoln Middle School in Meriden. They believe their team of educators play an important role in helping students learn how Dr. King changed American history — and understand his ongoing impact right through to the present.
 
"It's important not just to teach Dr. King's legacy but to be able to interject it into modern events," said Flynn, who has taught social studies at Platt for 14 years. "We can have a conversation with our students about 'Black Lives Matter' and the tactics they're using and compare them to the lunch counter boycotts," added Flynn, a member of our Meriden Federation of Teachers.
 
“We start with the founding and historical documents of our past and bring them into the present," said Manware, who has taught the subject for 17 years at Lincoln. "We try to help the kids make connections. We take the 15th Amendment — which expanded voting rights — and discuss how Dr. King paved the way to realize its promise," added Manware, also a member of our Meriden teachers' union.
 
Click here for free, popular classroom lessons on Dr. King from Share My Lesson.
 
Rewriting the U.S. history curriculum has facilitated a social studies program alignment that Flynn says has fostered greater collaboration among staff in both of the district’s high schools. The shift has taken place at the same time as he and his Platt department colleagues, who teach approximately 1,100 students annually, have developed a student-centered learning program.
 
"Social studies may not be that popular — but the teachers are," said Flynn, a Platt graduate himself, who previously served as a building rep for our local union.
 
The addition of a district coordinator has, according to Manware, empowered educators and support staff at both of Meriden’s middle schools to adapt to a thematic style of teaching. That, he says, has improved the ability of his staff of six educators and support staff to prepare eighth-graders for the high school curriculum.
 
"When we're on the same page, we can do more for our students," said Manware.
 
Click here for more on how Meriden teachers have incorporated a student-centered approach to learning.
 
Collectively, Connecticut's public education and legal professionals are a vital bridge between America's civil rights history and the gains won by the movement Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led. Their efforts are a reminder of the ongoing struggles with discrimination, injustice and oppression that still exist 34 years after the establishment of the federal holiday honoring his legacy.
 
Click here for more on the history of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.