Malala Inspires AJR Students to Choose Empathy And Believe in Themselves

The school rumbled excitedly as teachers and students filled Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School's auditorium. A seemingly ordinary Tuesday turned into a buzz-filled day. Malala was greeted with a rousing welcome as she hosted a screening and discussion of the Oscar-nominated documentary Stranger at the Gate (2022). The screening was conducted in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves (Facing History) and Righteous Persons Foundation. 

Ánimo Jackie Robinson and Facing History's partnership has been one since Robinson's opening in 2016. Facing History is a non-profit organization that helps educators through classroom resources and professional development to prepare students for participation in civic life. 

In anticipation of this event, Ánimo Jackie Robinson social studies teacher, Maritza Saldaña, shifted her classroom lesson to focus on Malala Yousafzai. Students learned about her experience advocating for educational rights for women and girls as well as  the tribulation and violence she faces as an activist. Saldaña acknowledged Facing History's resources make a difference in  students’ academic careers and interest in social changes.

"It forces us to have difficult conversations about race and differences of opinions. We do take on the mantra that people make choices. Choices make history," Saldaña said. 

Senior Samuel Domingues said he was speechless after hearing the announcement that Malala was visiting Ánimo Jackie Robinson. "I feel like this helps us and inspires us to continue school," Domingues said.

Students and guests watched the film Stranger at the Gate, about the U.S. Marine who plans a terrorist attack on a mosque. He was forced to confront the people he sought to kill, and their kindness and compassion not only made him drop his plans, but later  made him a part of their community. 

"Facing History teachers support students in having challenging conversations. Strangers at the Gate depicts a moving example of what a difference these discussions and connections can make." Gretchen Blake said, the executive director of Facing History in Southern California. 

The audience was enthralled during the screening as they connected the story to deeper messages within their classrooms and community. After the screening, Malala and the Director of Stranger at the Gate, Joshua Saftel, answered students’ questions on the film's themes of resisting hate and finding compassion.

Malala shared a message to her young audience, "To young people who are passionate about a cause:believe in yourself, and it might take a long time to see the action, but do not lose hope–your role is critical, do not take it for granted."  

The screening left the auditorium inspired and ready to make connections across social divides through empathy. Twelfth-grader Isaias Balbuena resonated with the movie as he reflected on the importance of storytelling. "I think it's important because it just opens people's eyes on how to take the next step [in social change] or the fact that we're not alone in the process." Balbuena said. 

At Green Dot Public Schools California, we respect the communities we serve and continue to create partnerships that are committed to ensuring pathways for opportunities and change. Special speakers and initiatives provide transformative experiences to amplify diverse voices and inspire students to discover their agency.