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Becoming an ‘Upstander’

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Becoming an ‘Upstander’

Posted by Enough Team on December 7, 2011

Becoming an ‘Upstander’

Editor’s Note: In her first guest blog post for Enough Said, Dr. Ellen J. Kennedy, a Minnesota-based professor, wrote about her ‘Enough Moment,’ which inspired the creation of a non-profit organization called World Without Genocide. As a follow-up, and in response to a reader’s comment, Kennedy wrote this post describing her group’s use of theater in their curriculum.

We all know what a bystander is—someone who knows something bad is happening but does nothing. People are bystanders for a lot of complicated reasons. Some are afraid to act. Some don’t know what to do. Or perhaps some don’t care enough to get involved.

We want everyone to be an upstander. Wherever injustices happen, people can and must stand up.

How do we create upstanders? We think there are some important steps. First, we tell the stories of ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things. This helps give us the courage to act. Second, we let people know how to become upstanders by suggesting simple action steps everyone can take. And third, we talk about individual people who have been victims, people just like us, and this opens our hearts to care.

We’ve written two one-act readers’ theater plays about people who are upstanders. The plays are designed to be performed on a bare stage accompanied by PowerPoint slides of ‘everyday heroes.’ They feature men and women from around the world who stood up to genocide. The first play, “Upstanders,” highlights people like rescuers Oskar Schindler during the Holocaust and Carl Wilkens during the Rwandan genocide and writer Samantha Power, who raised awareness about the U.S. government’s passivity in the face of genocide throughout the 20th century. This play is translated into Somali, Oromo, and Spanish.

The second play, “Upstanders: Ten Who Dared,” describes others, including Betty Bigombe from Uganda, Sophie Scholl, a young German resister during the Holocaust, and General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the United Nations troops in Rwanda during the genocide.

These plays are included with our documentary film, Children of Genocide: Five Who Survived. 

Our 2012 Upstanders calendar is now available. It portrays people under the age of 40 from around the world who are making a difference in genocide prevention through education, legislation, landmine eradication, socially-responsible financial practices, and more.

To receive the plays and documentary film, available for $10 with no additional copyright fees, or the calendar at $15, contact us at info[at] or 952-693-5206 or order through the website at

We can all become upstanders. 

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide based in St. Paul, MN, which organized its first annual Summer Institute for high school students this year.