“It Was Like a Visit from the President”: Timothy Jenkins Talks to Fifth Graders


Rachel Hull’s fifth graders were studying the founding of the United States from various perspectives in a unit called “Know Your Rights.” Through their analysis of primary sources and research, they began to uncover a version of history that was missing from their textbooks.

To deepen their knowledge, they invited Teaching for Change board member Timothy Jenkins as a guest speaker. As a lawyer, lifelong activist, and veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, Jenkins had a lot to say about U.S. history and the Constitution. He responded to their questions about his own first awareness of racism, his work in the 1960s with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the evolution of the of concept of race in the U.S. judicial system. He gave the class a copy of the Teaching for Change/PRRAC publication, Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching.

After Jenkins’s visit, one student said that she had only heard U.S. history from a white male perspective until this school year and that made her very sad. Another student said, “Wow. That was almost like a visit from the President.”

Jenkins’ visit not only informed the students, it also had a profound impact on Hull as she wrote in her thank-you letter,

You have no idea how much I enjoyed having you in our classroom yesterday. I feel so grateful to be teaching in a city and a school where my knowledge of the world is being pushed. I’ve cried a few times over the fact that there is a whole world of history I don’t know. How is that? I am a history lover and my adult daughter has a history degree. We know how it is that I don’t know. I am busy about the business of remedying that. Reading the work of Howard Zinn and others. I am so grateful; my students have taught me so very much.

Thank you for sharing your life and experiences with my students.  I promise that your words and wisdom will not be lost on us.

I appreciate your gentle, giving nature. I appreciate your activism. I appreciate your speaking up. There is some cosmic magic, for lack of a better term, when we give our best to those that our society deems as less. There is magic in your steps. You are an American treasure.

The students will apply what they learned in their culminating project–a documentary. Their documentaries will explain the role of activism embraced by the U.S. Constitution, explore U.S. history through the lens of one topic, and challenge the viewers to take up the fight themselves.

We look forward to sharing some of their work here.

Mykella Palmer