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Fighting the good fight, GBS teacher receives Illinois Holocaust Museum award

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GLENVIEW — From college years to his human rights work today at Glenbrook South High School, social studies teacher Matt Whipple has pursued an uncommon calling.

At Northwestern University, he took up student activism upon learning of South African apartheid.

He also joined the movement to free anti-apartheid revolutionist Nelson Mandela who died Dec. 5, 2013.

“My desire to speak out against such injustices came from my family, my friends and my teachers,” Whipple said.

“They encouraged me to better myself and the world around me.”

In 2007, two Glenbrook South students talked to Whipple about starting a club to address genocide in Darfur, West Sudan.

Already experienced in rallying against genocide in Rawanda, he helped start STAND (Students Taking Action Now in Darfur) for Peace, a student group working to improve the lives of people in developing nations and achieve long-term peace with awareness, dialogue and action.

Since 2006, STAND has raised $25,000 to build schools in the Darfur region.

For his humanitarian leadership among students, on April 24 the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie honored Whipple with the 2014 Power of One Award.

Fritzie Fritzshall, a World War II holocaust survivor and Illinois Holocaust Museum board president, presented Whipple with the award.

Quoting Desmond Tutu, Whipple said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

Whipple also directs the Glenbrook Academy of International Studies at Glenbrook south and north high schools.

“Our school delivers the message that we have an international responsibility to combat hatred,” he said.

“In this environment, I get to exercise some power.”

Joy Bolger, a GBS graduate and substitute teacher, was one of Whipple’s five award nominators.

“He has chosen, in the spirit of ubuntu, to have empathy and compassion for those in need, to take a walk in their footsteps, and to stand up for them rather than stand by,” she wrote.

“He has chosen to inspire others through his teaching, leadership, and everyday friendship, in a way that makes everyone he interacts with want to move others in the same way. “

In April 2012, STAND participated in a weeklong information campaign at GBS revealing the realities of world genocide and refugee camps.

They created a likeness of an African refugee camp in the Student Activity Center, and showed videos and photographs of life inside the camps, such as cholera, child graves and how aid reached refugees.

A website also allowed students to write elected officials, urging them to stop violence and oppression. The school’s Stand for Peace Week this year was April 7 through 11.

GBS Principal Brian Wegley said Whipple’s efforts represented what the Power of One Award exemplified in “fighting hatred, standing up to indifference and promoting human rights.”

“(STAND) has literally built schools in Darfur, raised our collective awareness of this devastating issue and, most importantly, taught hundreds of students that they can directly make a difference,” he said.

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