2008 Youth Scholar - Justin Fletcher, Nitro High School, Nitro, WV
"Justin's awareness of First Amendment issues and his willingness to stand up for the rights of students raised the awareness of his classmates. His enthusiasm swept them along, taking them to school board meetings and resulting in a coalition with students at another school that joined in the advocacy."
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Justin Fletcher took at stand for free speech in the small town of Nitro, WV. After his school board responded to the complaints of a few parents by removing two books from the school curriculum, Justin organized and led a student protest against censorship and co-founded the Student Coalition against Censorship with students at a neighboring high school. Justin took the lead in student organization efforts – preparing talking points about censorship for the school board's consideration. Justin and his fellow students were persuasive enough to convince the school board to repeal the book ban.
Justin's Scholarship Essay
I believe that I am a civil libertarian due to my involvement in the Nitro High School book banning controversy. I felt that if we did not speak out to defend our rights, no one would. So, I decided to take action. The next day I circulated a petition, and after receiving tremendous support from my peers, I extended the operations to include t-shirts and mass attendance at the board meeting, and worked to attract media attention to our cause.
I soon received word that George Washington students were interested in joining with us in support of students' rights. Within a week of receiving word of their interest, we had staged a meeting between two George Washington students and me during which we decided to stage a larger public meeting to include all of the students and parents who were interested in attending the board meeting.
And so, the Student Coalition Against Censorship was established, and I became the chair. We held our public meeting, which provided an opportunity for everyone to get familiar with each other and allowed us all to prepare a strategy for the board meeting.
The night of the board meeting, we staged a silent protest, which forced everyone entering the building to walk through two rows of students clad in protest shirts, holding the book we were there to defend. Once the meeting began, things got even better. Our speakers, due to extensive preparation, spoke articulately and represented our concerns accurately. I set out to defend the rights of students, and along with the help of my peers, the ban has been repealed. I truly feel that if not for our actions, these books would not be in our curriculum and the rights of students would be further eroded.