The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry. Founded in 1971, SPLC is known for investigating and exposing hate group activities throughout the world. They focus on widespread issues of social injustice including children at risk, hate and extremism, immigrant justice, and LGBT rights. But they go a step beyond fighting hate and seeking justice for the vulnerable. The SPLC conducts one of the nation’s leading programs for teaching tolerance.
Their ground-breaking Teaching Tolerance program is dedicated to cultivating inclusive, nurturing school environments where “equality and justice are not just taught, but lived.” They produce and distribute documentary films, books, lesson plans and other materials that promote tolerance – free of charge. The Teaching Tolerance program reaches hundreds of thousands of educators and millions of students – empowering “a new generation to live in a diverse world.”
The SPLC Teaching Tolerance program has a number of powerful tools in their arsenal. Their award-winning Teaching Tolerance magazine provides educators across the country with a forum to learn about and exchange ideas on teaching for about diversity. The Teaching Diverse Students Initiative is an online project focused on improving instruction for racially and ethnically diverse students. SPLC has even developed a special program designed to empower students themselves to take the lead in promoting tolerance and understanding. Called Mix It Up at Lunch Day, this national program has a simple premise: students are encouraged to sit with someone new in the cafeteria for just one day – “a small step that can go a long way toward breaking down social and racial barriers.”
Imagine what might happen if everyone took just one day out of our busy lives to “mix it up” – to sit next to someone we don’t know on the bus, or strike up a conversation with a new colleague in the lunchroom, or turn around in the grocery line and introduce ourselves to a stranger. We can all learn a lot from this remarkable Teaching Tolerance program. Perhaps we can take a page from Eleanor Roosevelt’s United Nations address back in 1953:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.”