Speak Truth To Power, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, is a multi-faceted global initiative that uses the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights, and urge them to take action. Issues range from slavery and environmental activism to religious self-determination and political participation.
The project began as a book written by Kerry Kennedy (since translated into six languages, with more coming) and has been adapted into a dramatic production by Ariel Dorfman. The portraits of the human rights defenders by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams featured in the book have been made into an exhibition that has toured over twenty cities in the United States after its initial launch at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It is now displayed on four continents.
The Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum has been disseminated to hundreds of thousands of students in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States. In collaboration with Amnesty International, the U.S. version of the curriculum has been widely distributed throughout North America. An updated U.S., online-curriculum, launched in December 2010, in partnership with New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), includes seventeen teacher-developed lesson plans for students in grades 6-12. In addition, the international interest in the curriculum continues to grow and to offer new partnership opportunities with donors and governments. Most recently, the curriculum was launched in Hong Kong and Cambodia in February 2011. A model country for this educational initiative is Italy, where the 12-week course has been taught to over 250,000 students. The human rights education curriculum is also being taught in South Africa, Romania, and Nicaragua.
Hosted by President Bill Clinton, the play, Speak Truth To Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark, premiered at the Kennedy Center in the year 2000. A one-hour video was broadcast on PBS as part of its Great Performances series. Many of America's greatest actors have performed in the play, including: Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline, John Malkovich, Sean Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Martin Sheen, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, and more. The play has been produced across the United States and performed by major actors in Barcelona, Cape Town, Florence, Geneva, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Madrid, Mantua, Milan, Phnom Penh, Rome, Seoul, and Sydney. Notable was a performance in Doha, Qatar, transmitted live on Al Jazeera and read by ten of the most celebrated actors and singers of the Arab world. It has also been performed by schoolchildren, college students, local heroes and even prisoners (in a major theatre in Bucharest, after rehearsals in the penitentiary). Future productions are planned for Paris, Istanbul, Zimbabwe, and Mexico.
Speak Truth To Power encourages governments, NGOs, major foundations, and individuals to support human rights, and brings much-needed attention to continuing abuses. But perhaps its most lasting effect will be to demonstrate the capacity of each individual to create change.