How to Be an Upstander: How to Find Your Civic Superpower | Facing History & Ourselves
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How to Be an Upstander: How to Find Your Civic Superpower

This piece offers a number of ideas for getting involved in one’s community and beginning to pinpoint areas where we are each best poised to make an impact.
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Do things sometimes feel uncertain and overwhelming in our country and our world?

Do you ever feel paralyzed, as if nothing you can do matters or makes a difference? You’re not the only one who feels that way. Many people do. But your actions can make a difference.

Think of major changes in the world like the US civil rights movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. These events weren’t inevitable, and they weren’t the work of one person, one group, or one key moment. They required many people—including students—to believe that they could make a positive difference.

So how can you make a positive difference in today’s world? You can start to find your “civic superpower” by thinking about what makes you and your experience unique. Here are a few examples:

  • Are you a good listener?
  • Are you open to learning new things about communities different from your own?
  • Do you have strong writing skills?
  • Are you bicultural or bilingual?
  • Do you know what it’s like to live in poverty or deal with racism? Can you share that experience when you’re talking with others about how to make our world better for everyone?

These are just a few examples. Whoever you are, some skills come naturally to you, and you have knowledge and experiences that other people don’t have. If you start with your strengths, and find an action you can take that builds on those strengths, you’ll begin to feel more confident. You’ll feel more like you can make a difference. And you’ll be able to see what your “civic superpower” is. You can start with actions like:

  • Find out who your representative is in Congress. Write them a short letter about an issue you care about.
  • If you see someone in your school being bullied, speak up.
  • Sign up for a volunteer project over spring break.
  • Read a book by someone with a different background from you—perhaps a woman, a person of color, an immigrant, or an LGBTQIA+ person—and when you’re done, share it with a friend.
  • Write down what you’ve learned in history class so far this year. Have you studied topics like race, immigration, democracy, and human rights? If not, can you choose one of those topics for your next essay or project?
  • Enter the Facing History student essay contest and share your story.

What is your civic superpower and how will you use it?