Photo By: Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos High School students, left, attended a variety of presentations during History Week, including one on human trafficking that featured Los Altos High alumna Mihn Dang, right.
Los Altos High School students heard from an engaging array of speakers last week during the school’s inaugural History Week.
School faculty and parent volunteers organized a host of presentations around the theme “Rights for All.” Speakers, films and workshops addressed a variety of human-rights-related topics, from Japanese internment during World War II to the American civil rights movement, Internet privacy protections and the social impact of women’s portrayal in the media.
“Students have the opportunity to be exposed to the world and see what they are learning in the classroom in the real world,” said Principal Wynne Satterwhite. “It really gives them the opportunity to see what they are learning and how it applies to where they are going in life.”
Students and community members attended a panel discussion Jan. 16 featuring the Hon. James Robertson, retired U.S. District judge for the District of Columbia and chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Lee Rubin, attorney and former prosecutor for the Department of Justice.
The evening presentation featured a screening of “Mississippi Burning,” a film that chronicles the investigation of the murder of three civil rights activists in a small Mississippi town in 1964.
“When we are young, we are oblivious to the history that is going on around us,” Robertson said. “It’s our life.”
Robertson shared with the audience his involvement in history as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., representing protesters arrested at demonstrations after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. Shortly after his time in D.C., Robertson relocated to Mississippi, where he handled many civil rights cases.
Robertson recounted the history of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, from the death of racial segregation in schools to the implementation of voting rights for African-Americans.
“All of this was happening around me,” Robertson said. “I knew about it, but somehow I didn’t think it was history. It was my life, too.”
Robertson compared realizing that one is living in a moment of historical import to a Chinese proverb: “What is the current to a fish? The fish doesn’t know whether he is swimming upstream or downstream.”
“The civil rights breakthroughs of the ’50s and ’60s have morphed into a much broader idea of human and civil rights that your generation is going to deal with,” he told students. “Internet ethics and privacy. Immigrant rights. Consumer rights. Women’s rights. Teen rights. LGBT rights. Human trafficking. This is the current your generation is swimming in, and it is history in the making.”
Rubin, a generation younger than Robertson, discussed his experiences as a lawyer advocating for voter rights and against what he deemed the more “subtle” ways cities and counties find to discriminate against minorities.
“Even now, 48 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there are still controversies and struggles regarding basic participation in the political process,” he said.
Rubin recounted a case he tried in 1995 in which a group of threatening neighbors set a cross on fire in the front yard of an African-American family – an act reminiscent of the civil rights battles in the 1960s.
“These are the kinds of hate crimes that send ripples of fear through an entire community and disrupt people’s ability to do what should be a minimum guarantee as an American family – to enjoy the sanctity of their own homes,” Rubin said.
Rubin said he hoped “Mississippi Burning” and the legacy of the murdered civil rights workers would inspire students.
“As you watch this film, remember to follow your passion, to look for wrongs to right, and that each of you can make a difference,” he said.
In addition to the panel featuring Robertson and Rubin, History Week presentations included a Forbes Magazine blogger discussing social media and Internet commerce privacy rights, leaders in the sports community addressing student athletes’ rights and programs on immigrant rights, domestic violence and bullying.
Students received a special visit from Los Altos High School alumna Mihn Dang, recently featured in the media as a prominent face for victims/survivors of human trafficking.