How Can Young People Change the World? Ask Expert Rebecca de Schweinitz in FHSS Twitter Party

It may be argued that, in some ways, the racial climate of American society has shifted enough that it’s easy, especially for millennials, to forget about the atrocities of the Civil Rights movement of only a few decades ago. BYU associate professor of history Rebecca de Schweinitz, in her 2009 book If We Could Change the World, explores the relationship between youth and the civil rights movement, answering questions about how young people contributed to the movement and how conceptions about them helped to shape the black freedom struggle. These answers are especially relevant to the youth of today, as they can inform their reaction as a group and individually to ongoing racial struggles in our society. Anyone interested in discussing these subjects is invited to participate in a real-time Twitter Q & A with Professor de Schweinitz, coming up in October.

deschweinitz_ifOf her book, the Arkansas Review said: “few studies of the civil rights movement present the movement in such a dynamic…manner.” Of the Q & A, Jamie Moesser, Outreach Coordinator for BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences said: “this will be a great opportunity to interact with Professor de Schweinitz, ask her questions about youth and the Civil Rights movement, and understand more about the important role youth have played and can play in influencing societal change. Plus,” she adds, “it’s easy, and there’s a good chance that you could win a $50 Visa gift card.” Here are the details:

Book Club Details

What: Twitter chat about the book. Click here to learn how it works. No big deal.

When: Tuesday, October 4th from 12-1 p.m. MST (2 p.m. EST, 1 p.m. CT, 11 p.m. PT)

Where: On With the party hashtag #AskAnFHSSExpert.

Hashtag: #AskAnFHSSExpert

Topic: youth and social movements, particularly the civil rights movement

Moderators: @JamieMoesser, @byufhss

RSVP: Please RSVP in the comments section of this post at any time before the party to follow and be followed by like-minded individuals who’ll be participating in the party with you! The first three people who RSVP will be receive a free copy of Professor De Schweinitz’s book (if they don’t already have one).

In-Chat Giveaway

During the chat, a random participant will be chosen to win a $50 VISA gift card.

How to Spark Kids’ Interest in Civil Rights: FHSS Professor Rebecca de Schweinitz

You may not think that your seven-year-old would understand the concept of civil rights, much less care about it, but they can. Not only that, children can and have been agents of civil rights change in our nation’s past. So, who’s to say that they can’t be our change agents of the future? That’s a question that FHSS History professor Rebecca de Schweinitz answered in her book If We Could Change The World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality, recently mentioned in an article in Time Magazine.

“Everyday people, including children and youth, changed the course of history,” she said, in reference to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. In her book, she offers these tips to help parents spark their kids’ interest in Civil Rights:

Tell Stories

Elementary aged kids love stories, de Schweinitz told Time. Tell them stories about children like them who showed courage during the Civil Rights Movement, or others who’ve made a difference. There are plenty of stories to choose from, including:


Parents can tell the stories of the brave children who integrated into white classrooms after desegregation. That was a time that put kids “at the center of the nation’s struggle for racial equality,” said de Schweinitz.

Parents can also tell the stories of young activists like Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, who spoke on campus recently. She told the students in attendance that she recognized the harmful effects of segregation when she was just 10-years-old. At this young age, she promised herself that she would do something to help make things better when she got the chance. By the time she was 19-years-old Mulholland had participated in over three dozen sit ins and protests, including one of the most famous and violent sit-ins of the movement at the Jackson Woolworth lunch counter. She also participated in the March on Washington and rode with the Freedom Riders. Countless other children and young people were involved in the movement in one way or another.

Ask Questions

According to de Schweinitz, as kids get older, parents can start asking them questions that get them thinking about their role in society. They can ask their children about what they would change in the world today. This could also be a time of reflection. Parents can encourage their kids to think about what they have learned from stories about young people in history who have worked for change. How they can apply those lessons to their lives today?

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Have Conversations

Parents and children can start having conversations about the personal cost of fighting for change by the time kids reach high school.  They can discuss possible reasons that people are willing to sacrifice for a cause they believe in, particularly why young people might be even more willing to work for change. “One of the truly striking aspects of youth activism in movement history was how much young people were consciously willing to give up,”de Schweinitz says.


Dig Deeper

The names of key figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman likely come to mind first when thinking about the Civil Rights Movement. Though it may take a deeper look, de Schweinitz says it is clear that kids have never just been pawns or followers in the long fight for civil rights. Kids, she said, have always felt their “own determination to fight for racial equality. This was their movement, too.” Parents can help their kids look more closely at the role of children and young people in the movement and how their courage and participation made a big difference.

Have you done any of these things with your kids? How did they react?

Civil Rights Book Photo courtesy of Flickr