Celebrating Our California Community of 2024 Upstanders | Facing History & Ourselves
Photo of Facing History staff member facilitating discussion at California Upstander event

Celebrating Our California Community of 2024 Upstanders

In our annual California Partner School Network Upstander Celebration, we highlight the actions of upstanders within this community.

The Facing History & Ourselves California Partner School Network has recently identified students and adults who exemplify what it means to be an upstander. How, when, and where these community members stand up, and what motivates them to do so, reflects a beautifully diverse range of actions and beliefs. Their efforts provide a powerful mosaic of experiences from which we can learn and draw inspiration.

We call it our Upstander Celebration and it has taken shape as a community event with family, friends, and school staff as well as a digital gallery and social media campaign. Dedicated school liaisons at each partner school make this celebration possible by nominating upstanders and sharing with us their moving stories. As we’ve watched the world change over the last three years and as schools continue to address myriad challenges these upstanders remind us of our tremendous power and agency.

During this year's celebration, many of our upstanders came together for a day of connection and learning. As a closing exercise, we asked them to offer advice to younger students, teachers and school leaders, other upstanders facing challenging moments. We invite you to take to heart what they shared, and consider which piece of advice resonates most deeply with you: 

  • "You never know when or how you might be making a difference in someone else’s life.”
  • “Being an upstander benefits you just as much as it does the world.”
  • “Know who you are and what you are standing up for.”
  • “Doing what’s right is more important than a laugh or protecting someone. Ask yourself, ‘what would I want someone do for me in this situation?’”
  • “When you see something you know is wrong, try to address it. You don’t have to be the solution, but try to create awareness.”
  • “Think about those who came before you, and think how they fought for your rights. Now it’s your responsibility to continue making sure those rights don’t disappear.”
  • “Teachers need to be understanding and open-minded about what their students have to say or what they believe in. Just because they are older doesn't mean they know it all.”
  • “Your actions don’t have to be big. Even little steps can make a big impact on someone.”
  • “It’s important to be an upstander not only because it’s the right thing, but also because you can inspire others to use their voice to stand up for things they believe in.”
  • “When you come up against challenges, take a step back and observe the bigger picture. Then conquer those problems one step at a time.”
  • “When the mic comes to you, don’t be afraid to speak. When you have an opportunity in life, don’t let it go to waste.”
  • “Don’t allow others to speak for you. Find your voice and stick with it because your style of language is your power.”
  • “Remember your why! You are making amazing change. You don’t have to finish the work, but don’t stray away from it.”
  • “Upstanding provides you with an opportunity to grow as a person and simultaneously improve the world around you.”
  • “When you come up against a challenging moment, talk to a trusted adult about it.”
  • “When challenged, don’t surrender. Find another path. Seek advice and guidance from adults and then make your own decisions.”

The word “upstander” expands the language with which we can describe human behavior and informed civic action. Advocating for the term’s inclusion in standard dictionaries presents an exemplary upstander story of its own, and the more we recognize and use the term, the more we encourage actions that embody it. 

As you read through California Upstanders: A Digital Gallery, you will encounter the stories of individual students and educators, as well as groups and clubs that include both students and adults. We encourage you to reflect on the range of actions, both big and small, that give shape to the stories; consider the conditions that seemed to facilitate an awareness and care for one’s community and led to upstander behavior; and appreciate the courage and willingness to take risks that so often distinguishes the boundary between standing by and standing up.

We also invite you to use these upstander stories as text in your classroom. We know that many educators use various Facing History resources to highlight the actions of upstanders. Consider how the integration of these stories - about students in schools just like yours - might speak to the experiences and aspirations of your students. Here is a simple lesson plan you can use:

Have each student read through the posts individually. They can access the stories digitally on their own devices (if available), or you may choose to do a Gallery Walk by printing the posts ahead of time, taping them up on your walls or another surface and having students circulate the room to silently read them.

Invite students to reflect on the stories. Use the Teaching Strategy: Text to Text, Text To Self, Text to World and provide students with time to journal about these connections.

Facilitate a classroom discussion. Begin by having students meet in small groups of 3-4 to share their text-text/self/world connections, or try the Concentric Circles teaching strategy to have students do three pair-shares in a row, one for text-to-text connections, one for text-to-self connections, and one for text-to-world connections. Then take share-outs in the whole group, asking them:

  • What does it mean to be an upstander?
  • How did the actions of these upstanders impact their school community?
  • Who are the upstanders in your life and in your school community?