Jackie Robinson and Respect Speech

I thought I would share with you my speech to all Middle School students during our first annual Week of Respect.

“In the first half of the twentieth century a young man by the name of Jackie Robinson made history by becoming the first African American to play major league baseball. He was a pioneer of the game who faced many racist fans, but he was quoted as saying, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me…All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”

Sixty years after Jackie Robinson’s baseball career ended, there continue to be concerns about racism as well as other forms of discrimination against people for the way they look, where they are from, what they believe, their sexual orientation, their interests, their friends, what they wear, and the list of labeling and dividing goes on and on. It is because of this that the State of New Jersey has enacted what is being called the toughest anti-bullying law in the entire country.

The “tough” part is that it holds all of you accountable for your actions in a big way.

One of the provisions of the law is that public schools observe a Week of Respect during the first week of October. Peer Leaders have organized several activities that will raise awareness about the importance of respect in our school community, and you will hear about those in a little while.

First, let me brag a little bit about how our school has always known the importance of respect. It is the first word of our school motto – Respect, Responsibility, and Excellence.

Second, respect is a cornerstone of how our leadership programs, both the classes and our after school peer leadership meetings, teach our character education curriculum.

Eighth graders will embark on a fantastic language arts research project later on this year that will have you exploring the various meanings and nuances of a word. I decided to use a similar process to delve into the history of the word ‘respect,’ and started with a dictionary to find out that the word came into use about 600 years ago. It is derived from the Latin prefix “re” which means “again” and the verb “spectare” which means “to look.” Put it together and the word “respect” means to look back or to look again, as to recognize someone’s or something’s value or worth.

The concept of respect of course is much older than 600 years. Writing in the Bible uses other words instead of “respect,” such as “honor.”

The Ancient Sanskrit blessing of Namaste says, “Let the light in me honor the light in you.” This is an especially deep expression of respect.

According to the Shakespeare Concordance, William Shakespeare used “respect” over 106 times in 34 plays. In the eighth grade play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare used “respect” seven times. One example is when Brutus, who betrays his friend Caesar, tells the angry crowd in his own defense, “believe me for mine honor and have respect for mine honor.”

Internet searches revealed that the word respect has been used untold times in poems and songs. One artist, Aretha Franklin, actually spells it out in a refrain that I am sure many of you know:  “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me….”

The group Train has a song titled “Respect” and its refrain is “everybody needs a little respect, everybody needs a little time, everybody got to have somebody.”

This is exactly what my message is to you this morning. Every single person is worthy of respect. Everyone is entitled to be him or herself without threat of criticism, humiliation, teasing, exclusion, or harm.

In middle school all students are going through a major transformation as your bodies and brains are growing. We are not all the same and we do not all change at the same time or in the same way. Let’s give everyone the time, the space, and the respect.

The law requires this, but in our school community we set a higher standard. We want more than that. We are training you to be leaders, and leaders have the courage to think for themselves, use their consciences to take action, and to reach out to help others, include them, and recognize we all share a need to be accepted and respected.

Let’s make our school a place where we live by our motto and prove we are leaders by not allowing anyone to be bullied or harassed and treating everyone else in the way we would like to be treated.”

Students were also invited to write a message on a paper brick which was then used to create our Wall of Respect on the bulletin boards outside the auditorium. In addition, homerooms throughout the school created motos of respect which were posted outside their homeroom doors. 

Throughout the year we will revisit the theme of respect as we create, and find, those teachable moments about the recently enacted HIB law.

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