For the past five years the Brooklyn International High School (BIHS) has joined over two hundred countries in the One Billion Rising campaign to end gender inequality. One Billion Rising is an international campaign led by the organization “V-Day,” spearheaded by activist Eve Ensler. A central part of the work occurs on February 14th, V-Day, when groups around the world participate in a flash mob. Dancing is the chosen method of protest as it involves an expression of joy, which at times can be a form of protest in itself; the body, over which dancers possess agency; and people uniting through rhythm, which builds community. While each year’s iteration of the event is different, this event affirms and helps create community in advocacy around the issue of gender inequality the work of BIHS’ Anti-Defamation League’s Peer Trainers and Dance Company.
Students and staff begin preparing for February’s Rise and Respect week in December of the preceding year. Students gather to elect specific themes and topics for the year’s work, plan workshops around those themes, and prepare to teach the dance to the school community.
T-Shirts, fabric markers, pins, stencils and “I Rise” bubbles are purchased and created in advance of the advocacy week.
Teachers also play an equally integral part in the successful planning of the event. They gather to share curricular connections about gender inequality, help students create plans and maps for the flash mob, and make time in their schedules for student-led workshops. Class curricular topics related to Rise and Respect week include students studying movements throughout history, looking at statistics of violence against women, a UNICEF four-corners exercise about wage discrepancies, and a dance inspired by Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.”
The culmination of this work is the Rise and Respect week in February, which also coincides with the Department of Education’s Respect for All week. This is the week of February 14th, allowing the school community to join in the international movement. Students led the workshops which they have planned. Topics of the workshops have included creating a respectful school environment, becoming an ally, and working for gender equality.
In addition to work within Brooklyn International High School, students have also connected to outside community organizations. This occurred through a partnership with the Gibney Dance Company, the Mayor’s Office and Day One. This triad of community organizations hosts an assembly program called “Hands are for Holding.” This year students visited the theatre at Gibney Dance Company where they saw a dance about healthy relationships and heard from speakers from Day One, an organization that partners with youth to end dating violence and domestic violence. This year, students were able to perform their flash mob, “One Billion Rising,” for the audience. This is included in the student video. Adding community organizations to the Brooklyn International High School’s work further allows students to engage in a politically and socially aware curriculum.
In previous years, students performed their flash mob within the school hallways. The school day was disrupted and the hallways were transformed for this moment of protest. To further expand the reach of this event, in the 2017-2018 school year the flash mob was performed outside, both on the Brooklyn Bridge and at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, bringing a message of gender equality to a public space.
Dance involves students’ bodies, as well as the school “student body.” It requires participation, energy, and performing in a shared rhythm. Nevertheless, dance is ephemeral and documenting the school’s participation in this international event becomes difficult. For this reason, each year during Rise and Respect week, one student directs and leads the creation process of a film documenting the event.
Below are two student videos from 2016 and 2018. The students organize multiple people to record the event from different angles and vantage points to ensure enough B-Roll is created for a quality video. Additionally, throughout the Rise and Respect week, students document events, rehearsals, and shared workshops. The organization of the filmmaking is student-driven, planned, and carried out, resulting in a successful, student-centered project. As judged by the multiple views on youtube (the 2016 video has over 1,600 views) the videos are popular. This is likely because a yearly community activism event that has no other documentation or proof of occurrence, is able to be brought to mind and re-experienced through film. The work of documenting school events and student activism might be applied in multiple settings through empowering students to direct and share their own film project.