Civil Rights Social Entrepreneurship

For the last four days, students from KIPP College Prep, Sacred Heart, Bishop Kearney, Xavier High School, Port Chester High School, and Holy Child Rye have been on an Expedition to prototype solutions to civil rights challenges.

Each morning we have gathered by listening to this prayer from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After centering ourselves with this invocation of the common good, we have then listened to the story of a civil rights social entrepreneur.

There was Harriet Tubman’s superhuman courage in helping enslaved people to free themselves; Booker T. Washington’s establishment of African American entrepreneurship and business networks; and of course MLK’s non-violent resistance, which he defends in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

(If you have not read it, or read it recently, please read it now, before you finish this blog post. You won’t regret it.)

We may tend to associate social entrepreneurship with business innovations, and those are certainly worthy of attention.

But if we define social entrepreneurship as “creative and collaborative problem solving on behalf of the common good,” we can see Tubman, Washington, King, and so many other civil rights leaders in new ways. Rather than mythologize them, we can learn social entrepreneurship techniques from the ways they used ingenuity and teamwork to advance equal rights for all.

Today, as we we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., our Expeditionaries will be sharing prototypes they have designed to address civil rights challenges. They have focused their projects on helping low-income adolescents, non-violent felons, asylum seekers, and Native American females. The adults facilitators had no hand in identifying or selecting those challenges; instead, the student teams created their own consensus by discussing two questions:

  • What matters to us?

  • What are we going to do about it?

Has there ever been a more important moment to encourage students to ask those questions? Has there ever been a more important moment to help them become creative and collaborative problem solvers for the common good?


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Christian Talbot