Mary Beth Tinker Award

Each spring, the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project of American University Washington College of Law hosts an end-of-year celebration for the high school students who study constitutional law in Marshall-Brennan classes during the past academic year. As part of the celebration, the program presents an annual Mary Beth Tinker Award, named for the central figure in the 1969 Supreme Court ruling, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, the high watermark for court recognition of student rights.

The award is presented "for unswerving devotion to the rule of law and the rights of America's students." A list of the winners, and a brief summary of why they were honored follows:

for unswerving devotion to the rule of law
and the rights of America's students

2014 The students of the Random Acts of Theater Company, Selma, Alabama and the Freedom Foundation

RATCo Selma is run by a core group of volunteers, many with professional theatre training and experience. The youth in the program come mainly from disadvantaged situations, but the program is open to all. The company performs in Selma several times per year and the youth manage all major elements of each performance including set design, music and sound, costumes, choreography, marketing/promotion, administration, and all aspects of production.

Selma was the founding site of Random Acts of Theatre Company, established in 2008. RATCo Selma kicked off their first performance, Footloose: The Musical, in April 2008, and through this experience the youth of Selma began to discover new possibilities in theater and in life. One by one, kids from different sides of the tracks got to know each other; some left gangs, some faced persecution and ridicule at school, and all found family through one another. Today, Selma serves as a model for the other RATCo locations. To learn more about RATCo, or to see clips of performances, please visit their website here.

2013 Brian Stirgus, student, Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS)

An active student organizer, Brian Stirgus has been at the forefront of a movement to keep Chicago public schools open. Stirgus, along with other members of Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS), an organization that encourages students to engage in educational activism and assert their educational voice, wrote a proposal to the mayor demanding a moratorium on school closings. This past April, Stirgus, along with about 100 other Chicago high school students, marched on Chicago's Public School headquarters in order to protest against the lack of educational rights given to students. In addition to fighting against the use of standardized tests that unfairly evaluate a student's academic performance, Stirgus also spoke out against school closings based on racial discrimination, arguing that low test scores were used to close schools with large African-American and Hispanic populations. For his dedication to uplifting the voice of students in Chicago public schools, the Mary Beth Tinker Award is awarded to Brian Stirgus.

2012 Quintess Bond, Elmina Bell, Neah Evering, Kristen Ellis, Angelique Gaston, students, School Without Walls, Washington, DC

Saddened and angered by Trayvon Martin's death, School Without Walls students plan to follow a course of action that started with a letter-writing campaign that generated about 130 letters urging authorities in Washington, DC, and Florida to take action and bring Trayvon Martin's alleged shooter to justice. Quintess, Elmina, Neah, Kristen, and Angelique all organized a student-led activist movement to march from their school on G St. NW, to the White House for justice in the Trayvon Martin death case. Demonstrators marched in a circle holding protest signs created by students such as Elmina, calling for justice. These five students rallied students and supporters as the circle closed and the procession returned to G Street.

2011 R. Dwayne Betts, Memoirist, Teacher, and Poet.

Dwayne is the author of A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison. When he was sixteen years old and an honors student and class treasurer at Suitland High School, he and a friend carjacked a man who had fallen asleep in his car. Betts was charged as an adult and spent more than eight years in prison, where he completed high school and began reading and writing poetry. Since then Dwayne has gone on to win numerous awards, fellowships, and scholarships. He currently teaches poetry with the DC Creative Writing Workshop at Hart Middle School. He is also speaks out for juvenile-justice reform, visits detention centers and inner-city schools, talks to at-risk young people, and has been a big supporter of the Marshall-Brennan Project.

2010 Ina Bendich, Law and Government Academy Director, Excel High School in Oakland, CA

Excel High School in Oakland, California is located in a fully urban district. The students struggle to cope with the realities of their surroundings and teachers like Ina Bendich strive to focus the students' attention on improving their environment rather than falling prey to it. The Mary Beth Tinker Award for 2010 was given to Ina Bendich for her encouragement of her students’ pursuit of a safe and clean neighborhood. Ms. Bendich was a tremendous supporter of the launch of Marshall-Brennan chapters at UC Berkeley and UC Hastings. Her devotion to the program and to engaging her students in the community is evidence of her commitment to youth.

2009 Adam Wolf & American Civil Liberties Union Drug Law Reform Project

For more than a decade, the Drug Law Reform Project of the American Civil Liberties Union has battled against punitive drug policies that lead to widespread violation of constitutional rights and human rights. Through litigation, education and community support, these lawyers have tried to raise awareness that the war on drugs is often being fought at the expense of the rights of young people. Most recently, the Drug Law Reform Project argued in the U.S. Supreme Court for Savana Redding who was strip-searched as an eighth grader in Arizona by school officials looking for ibuprofen. Earlier, the Project represented Lindsay Earls in her challenge to a school drug-testing policy in Oklahoma.

2008 Sarah Boltuck, student, Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, MD

As a student at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, you learned that you and thousands of other teenagers in Maryland had lost the right to vote at age 17 in primaries, if you would turn 18 by Election Day. Rather than accept this situation, you went into action, testifying before state officials and building popular support to bring about a change in the state rules. Your actions helped make it possible for thousands of Maryland teenagers to vote in the February 2008 primary and persuaded officials to restore the primary vote to 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the general election.

2007 Amy Sorrell, high school teacher, East Allen County, IN

As teacher and adviser to The Tomahawk, the newspaper at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School in East Allen County, Indiana, you dedicated yourself to teaching your students sound journalism practices and good editorial judgment. You paid a high price for this dedication and sound judgment when you were suspended and ultimately transferred to another school, all for permitting publication of a student column advocating tolerance for gay students.

2006 Anthony Lemus, student, Freedom High School, Prince William County, VA

By your own admission, you were not involved in politics and did not pay attention to the news until you became aware of federal immigration crackdowns and proposed changes in immigration law that would hurt the educational and employment opportunities of undocumented aliens. Energized by the issue, you helped lead student protests and became a spokesperson at a rally in Washington dedicated to fighting for immigrant rights.

2005 Nashala Hearn, student, Benjamin Franklin Science Academy, Muskogee, OK
Leah Farish, attorney, Tulsa, OK for The Rutherford Institute

Relying on the religious freedom guaranteed by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and equal treatment required by the Fourteenth amendment equal protection clause, you successfuly fought for Nashala's right to wear a hijab, a religious head scarf for which Nashala had been suspended by the Muskogee, Oklahoma school system.

Jeffrey Selman, parent & plaintiff, Cobb County, GA
Michael Manely, attorney, Marietta, GA

Citing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the concept of separation of church and state, you fought successfully in federal court to have Cobb County, Georgia school officials remove from all biology textbooks stickers that described evolution as "a theory, not a fact" that "should be approached with an open mind."

2004 Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

As the author of the original opinion for the Ninth Circuit in Newdow v. U.S. Congress, and later Newdow v. Elk Grove Unified School District, Judge Goodwin you had the courage to apply the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in a principled manner to the Pledge of Allegiance to protect the interests of school children and then to withstand the public outcry against the ruling. Your decision represents the strongest tradition of judicial independence.

2003 Mark Goodman, Student Press Law Center

The Student Press Law Center was founded in 1974 to represent the rights of student journalists. Mark Goodman has been its director since 1985 and a leading voice for the free speech and free press rights of students at all levels of our educational system. His determination and dedication to this important role have truly made a difference for students everywhere.

2002 Charles Cobb & Robert Moses, founders, The Algebra Project

The Algebra Project was founded in 1982 through the efforts of former civil rights organizers Charles Cobb and Robert Moses who equated the 1960's struggle for the right to vote with a 1980's struggle that continues to this day for a quality education for all youth in America. Their program helped empower youth for their own educational advancement and for the betterment of their communities.

2001 Mary Beth Tinker

Your displayed remarkable character and courage in standing up to school officials in order to carry out a peaceful protest against the Vietnam war and Cambodian bombing by wearing a black armband to school. That act and the landmark ruling it yielded in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District would be more than enough to merit the naming of this award in your honor. But you have also continued to speak out for the rights of students and against injustice throughout your life, and you have been a role model to the young people of this country that they can and should make a difference.