April 14, 2024
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Civil Rights Activist, Ms. Gwen Moten, Speaks to Yeshivat Noam Students

On February 12th, the 4th and 8th graders of Yeshivat Noam had the privilege of hearing from Ms. Gwen Moten, a Civil Rights activist. For several weeks leading up Ms. Moten’s presentation, both the 4th graders and 8th graders focused on the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. The 4th graders learned about the idea of being an “upstander,” someone who stands up for what s/he believe ins, even when others do not. Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were two individuals they studied. However, the discussion was not limited to the Civil Rights Era. Students discussed how they too can “stand up,” even in difficult times. Similarly, the 8th graders in English and Social Studies, looked at the history of racism through the lense of poetry, historical documents, and written testimonies.

With this historical background, the students truly appreciated Ms. Moten. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, she was a witness to some of the most important moments in the Civil Rights Movement. As a young girl, Ms. Moten struggled as her best friend Denise McNair was tragically killed in the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. Ms. Moten retold stories of her meeting Martin Luther King and marching in streets to fight against injustice. After hearing about Ms. Moten’s relationship with Dr. King, Temmy Gerson, a 4th grader, said, “She was really lucky to meet Martin Luther King and we are lucky she did too. He inspired her to move on and make a difference with her life. If he didn’t visit her, many people, including us, would not have benefited from her.”

A theme of Ms. Moten’s presentation was that everyone has purpose in life, and that each person can really make a difference. Leora Birman, a 4th grader said, “Ms. Moten inspired me to always stand up for yourself or for someone else. What I can do as a 4th grader is always stand up for someone and be nice.”

Ms. Moten currently lives in Newark, NJ and works for the Mayor’s office promoting art and culture throughout the city, but takes out time to speak to students about her life. Yeshivat Noam is thankful for its partnership with Facing History and Ourselves who helped to arrange this unique program.

By Rabbi Jeremy Hellman and Deena Wertman

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