Soul of a Nation

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Soul of a Nation a new art exhibition at Tate Modern art gallery in London examines what it meant to be black and an artist during the civil rights movement, from 1963 – when the idea of black power was emerging in the USA – through to 1983. As you arrive in the first room you are met with the audio of Martin Luther King‘s ‘I have a dream’ speech. It is the first time a lot of the art has been in displayed in the UK. For anybody interested in the history of the civil rights movement or how we are striving for racial harmony, then this is an art exhibition not to be missed, Channel 4 agree.

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What makes someone a hero?

You can list all the qualities which make someone a hero: brave, resilient, self-less, kind, thoughtful… Well a news story about 80 people joining together to save a group of swimmers struggling in a rip tide has all the signs of heroic action.

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Derek Simmons who was on the beach in Florida said that he spoke to another guy on the beach when he noticed the swimmers struggling, “Let’s try to get as many people as we can to form a human chain”. He explained that if you know about ants, you know when one’s in trouble they form a chain to help it. His theory was to get enough people to get out there and pull them in and then everybody could finish having a good rest of the evening. More and more people on the beach responded to the cries to join the human chain so that in the end up to 80 people joined together to reach out and save the young kids and their grandma.

As it is nearly the summer holidays and lots of you will be heading  to the beach here are some words of advice on riptides. Firstly learn how to spot a possible riptide:

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It is actually the calm looking water in the middle which is the rip current, as explained below:

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I know that when I have been on holiday in Cornwall that the lifeguards have marked out the safe places to swim with their flags. But if you look just to the left of the swimmers and surfers area that calmer looking water which looks so inviting is actually the dangerous rip. The picture below advises you to escape a rip current by swimming or preferably floating, horizontal from the shore, away from it:

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Muhammad Ali: watch and learn

In today’s lesson where students had to decide who is the biggest hero, Mother Teresa or Muhammad Ali, the latter was a clear winner. Below are some documentaries and films which will provide you with a heaps of information and inspiration from the great man himself.

  • Muhammad Ali – The Whole Story (1996): This is a six hour series which covers the whole of Muhammad Ali’s life.
  • When We Were Kings (1996): I watched this for the first time at University as part of  a film festival and the documentary transfixes you with the heat and passion of boxing. It covers the infamous 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. The focus is, naturally enough, the aging Ali, who was thought at the time to have little chance of beating Foreman yet his ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy –pretending to be in more trouble than you actually are, and cunningly wearing your opponent down in the process – proves devastating.
  • Ali (2001): Will Smith who is most famous for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Men in Black stars in this biopic that chronicles ten years in the life of Cassius Clay, from 1964, when he took the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, to 1974 and the Rumble In The Jungle with George Foreman. In between, there are the wider issues of Ali’s controversial opposition to the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, his conversion to Islam, his banishment from boxing and his initial return against Joe Frazier.
  • The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013): This is an American PBS documentary which focuses on Ali’s life outside the ring. A lot of times is given of course to his refusal of the Vietnam draft and the legal and professional problems it caused him (he faced prison, was stripped of his heavyweight title and had his boxing licence suspended for four years).
  • I am Ali (2013): This documentary is just about Ali as a man. There isn’t the focus on Ali as a boxer like other films or documentaries. It shows him as a warm-hearted family man through lots of  audio recordings Ali himself  in the ‘70s.

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Other short clips about Ali are worth watching to learn more about this hero:

  1. BBC News reporting on his death
  2. Inside Story by Al-Jazeera
  3. Muhammad Ali Obituary by the New York Times
  4. The last US President Obama gives a tribute to Ali 
  5. BBC Sports Personality of the Century

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Drug Policy Alliance in US argues why US Drug Policy All Wrong

In 1997 when US actress Rachael Leigh Cook was a box-office star someone thought it clever to summarise America’s drug problem with a frying pan and an egg. It was a cringeworthy Public Service Advert which a few weeks ago was rehashed as a Public Service Advert for the Drug Policy Alliance, again with actress Rachel Leigh Cook a frying pan and eggs, but pointing out how wrong the US’s current Drug Policy is.

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“It is gratifying and promising to see the evolution in Rachael Leigh Cook and in the American public over these last 20 years,” Tony Newman, director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The war on drugs is a disastrous failure that has ruined millions of peoples’ lives, especially people of color. Let’s hope this ad is seen by as many people as the original and inspires folks to end this unwinnable war.”In the advert Rachel Leigh Cook holds a frying pan and eggs of two different colours to demonstrate the racial disparities in our criminal justice system when it comes to drug crimes.

“The war on drugs is ruining people’s lives,” Cook says. “It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counterparts. It cripples communities. It costs billions and it doesn’t work. Any questions?”

For any Year 11 student revising about drugs for their GCSE RS exam watching the advert is worth 5 minutes of their time. There are often questions on the exam paper about how to punish people who take illegal drugs. Obviously we know how we can refer to religious attitudes (eye for an eye, the Golden Rule, love thy neighbour, forgiveness, situation ethics, Buddhist precept of no drugs or harm, karma, affecting your ability to follow religious teachings) and the aims of punishment (reform, deter, vindication for laws being in place, reparation, protection, retribution) but how drug policy can also affect generations of people and their efforts to get educated and pull themselves out of poverty should also be considered.

Helping you understand Martin Luther King Jnr

If you’d rather watch films to help you learn about Martin Luther King Jnr…

Selma is the 2014 drama by famed director Ava DuVernay which brought perspective to the 1965 marches to Selma in regards to the voting rights movement. The film won critical acclaim for actor David Oyelowo as MLK and the song “Glory” from the soundtrack won a Golden Globe.

Boycott is television film starring Jeffrey Wright as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The film is based on the book Daybreak of Freedom by Stewart Burns and tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.

The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306 is a documentary short film. It was released in 2008 to commemorate the 40th annual remembrance of MLK. It highlights the events of that fateful day when Martin was shot outside of Room 306 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.

Selma Lord Selma is a 1999 film based on the events of March 1965 known as Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. The story is told through the eyes of 11-year-old Sheyann Webb.

Our Friend, Martin is an animated film about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Two best friends travel through time and meet MLK at different points during his life. It features an all-star voice cast including John Travolta and was nominated for an Emmy award.

A TV documentary about MLK is only 45 minutes long and shows you how he rose to prominence and then his assassination which shocked the world.

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Whereas if TV and film is not your thing you might listen instead to the numerous radio recordings from the BBC all about Martin Luther King.

Or you could read the powerpoint called  martin-luther-king-learning (checking out the linked videos) and try to complete MLK’s quotes-and-explanation-match-up which will help you understand Christian teachings.

Imagine you’re on a school trip and your Muslim teacher isn’t allowed to get on the flight because he’s Muslim

On 16th February Juhel Miah a teacher from a Welsh school was flying with students and other teachers to the USA via Iceland. Already one week earlier a court had upheld the decision to suspend President Trump from the US’s executive order temporarily banning the travel from seven mostly Muslim countries. So why was Mr Miah, a British citizen with only a British passport removed from the flight in Iceland and not permitted to fly to the US? Was it simply because he is Muslim?

A spokesperson from the Maths teacher’s employer Port Talbot council said: “Juhel Miah was with a party from Llangatwg comprehensive who travelled initially to Iceland en route to New York last week. Mr Miah boarded the onward flight in Reykjavik on 16 February but was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel. Whilst the school trip proceeded as planned, Mr Miah’s removal from the flight left pupils and colleagues shocked and distressed.”

The spokesman continued: “We are appalled by the treatment of Mr Miah and are demanding an explanation. The matter has also been raised with our local MP.”

Hidden Figures: genius has no race, strength has no gender

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What a great tagline for a film: Genius has no race. Strength has no gender. Courage has no limit.

Hidden Figures is out in British cinemas in late February 2017 and tells the story of the contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. These women defied sexism, racism and segregation to become central to NASA’s bid to put an American into space; their calculations helping to send Alan Shepard and John Glenn into orbit and back to Earth again.

For the author of the book which the film was based on, Margot Lee Shetterly, her greatest pleasure has been the positive response from the only still living woman of the trio, Katherine Johnson aged 98. Interviewed in the Independent Ms Shetterley says: ‘At every turn…these women were involved in World War Two, the Cold War, Civil Rights…so that’s the thing, I really wanted to be able to tell a multi-layered story through the same women.’

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Perhaps you recognise one of the actresses as singer Janelle Monáe? One of her big hits was with Eriykah Badu in 2013 called Q.U.E.E.N though another recent hit was with the band FUN called We Are Young in 2011.