The LIGHT Education Initiative is an incentive-based K-12 school program that seeks to inspire, prepare, and empower the next generation of humanitarians. LIGHT helps school districts to meet their own capacity to provide safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all students and staff.
We had the opportunity to have a conversation with Nick Haberman, the founder and director of the LIGHT Initiative to learn more about the organization and their work.
Tell me a little bit about the creation of the LIGHT initiative. What did you see in Pittsburgh that sparked its beginnings?
As a Shaler Area High School teacher, my Holocaust elective students had a strong desire to transform their classroom social studies lessons into advocacy and action, to counter all forms of contemporary identity-based hate in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust. Pittsburgh's rich and beautiful history as a multicultural melting pot makes it a perfect place for young people to gain exposure to a wide variety of cultural and historical experiences, though for that to happen, there needs to be support and intentionality. The keystone of LIGHT's work is connecting students to these transformative and profound experiences through their existing school systems, to help them become the next generation of humanitarians.
How do you describe the connection of education and free expression, and where do you see those intersections in your work surrounding human rights and genocide prevention education?
As students dive deeper into civics education in grades 6-12, they become deeply passionate about their rights - not just their American rights, but their basic human rights. Then, when they learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the work of Eleanor Roosevelt in the late 1940s (after WWII and the Holocaust), they quickly realize that free expression is central to the exercise and celebration of so many other human rights. Since one of our goals in the American education system is to create educated, active citizens, the connection between education and free expression is a natural one. Also, we see that when students learn more about contemporary genocides and human rights violations, they strive to create safer and more compassionate schools and communities around them. LIGHT's intervention is to help students and educators study the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights violations using best-practices from our national institutions, like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and then create safe spaces and supported opportunities within their existing schools systems. Also, by connecting students and educators to the work of Pittsburgh-based organizations like the International Free Expression Project, they can easily find opportunities to celebrate and advocate for free expression in their own backyard.
What is the most rewarding part of your work? Are there any projects that have been particularly inspiring or have resonated with you personally?
The most rewarding part of the work is when a group of people get so excited about something, they forget you're in the room. That's when we know we've truly inspired, prepared, and empowered a group of people - when they don't need us anymore, and it's clear we've transitioned from a moment to a movement. A specific example of this was during an IFEP LIGHT program at Baldwin High School featuring Mai Khoi. Khoi's performance was absolutely mind-blowing for the students in the audience - they were forever transformed into champions of free expression, and we lost count of the follow-up LIGHT-related projects that were sparked by that one performance.
What have been some of the most noticeable changes in the students since starting this programming?
The program is beginning to become a movement, where our students and educators are designing and implementing opportunities entirely on their own. By committing to the "inspire, prepare, empower" model, we are seeing people truly take agency and ownership of their own projects, with us entirely on the sidelines.
In the context of your work or your personal life, what does free expression mean to you?
Free expression means that all people - especially young people - have the freedom to celebrate and express themselves safely and without fear or hesitation.
Is there anything new coming up for LIGHT that we can share with our followers?
I'm presenting at the upcoming @EradicateHate_ Global Summit - the most comprehensive anti-hate conference in the world from Sept 26th-Sept 28th. More info can be found at eradicatehatesummit.org
What is the best way for people to get involved and learn more if they want to?
Follow us on instagram @light_init or email email@example.com if you'd like to help bring LIGHT to a new school district.