By Barbara Goldberg

One of the best invitations I’ve ever received was from a third grade class, made up of 7 and 8 year olds at NOW (New Open World) Academy. The invitation said that I, along with a few others, had been recognized as a “local hero” who has fought for social justice, and they wanted to present me with the “NOWbel Peace Prize.” What an honor!

{Invitation to NOWbel Prize Awards}

The invitation was handwritten and drawn by Romeo Sanchez, and it said this:

Dear NOWbel Prize Winner,
My name is Romeo Sanchez and I am a third grade student at New Open World Academy. Our school believes in social justice. We believe social justice is when we help others to make this world a better place for everybody. We would love to know what social justice means to you because we know that you do great things for others. Since we read many biographies, we thought it would be awesome and meaningful if we could interview and write a biography about our hero. That would be you!

Could you please visit our class so we can interview you? My hero is Martin Luther King because he was doing good things for people on the street and in different countries. Who is your hero? When I grow up, I want to be a soccer player so I can teach kids how to play soccer. Do you have any advice for me? I hope to meet you soon.

Romeo Sanchez

On May 22nd, I met with and was interviewed by his class. I told them that my social justice hero was Nelson Mandela because he fought for equal rights for his people in South Africa for many, many years, suffering great personal hardship. He never gave up and finally achieved his goal of putting an end to apartheid.

I told them about the lack of safe water in Niger, about babies dying from unsafe water, and especially about girls their own age who could not get an education because they had to walk to find water. They readily understood what I said and thanked me for my dedication.

The award said: “In recognition for going above and beyond to make a positive difference and inspiring our children to take action.”

It was a joy to spend time with these kids because they have a vision of how to make the world a better place. They know the importance of working to make a positive difference in the lives of those less fortunate. One might look at them and think that they are among the less fortunate but I’d say these are very lucky kids to be educated in such a positive atmosphere, in a small class, by a dedicated teacher, Ryoko Matsui.

Note: NOW Academy is located in Koreatown in Los Angeles, where the Ambassador Hotel used to be. It is one of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, a Title 1 school where 100% of its students qualify for free breakfast, lunch and other services.