FERNDALE - In 1965, when coverage of the Vietnam War brought images of villages on fire and daily body counts into her living room, 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker wore a black armband to school to protest the war.
It was supposed to be a simple message of peace, but it made history in the fight for First Amendment rights for students after the armbands got Tinker, her brother and a friend suspended and their case went before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled 7-2 in their favor, saying the students were protected by the First Amendment.
Tinker shared her story with a group of Ferndale High School students Thursday, March 7, and talked about ways students throughout the country are still fighting for their rights.
"Everywhere I go I hear about kids that are speaking up about things that are important in their communities," she said. "We need their voices."
Tinker, who now works as a pediatric nurse in Washington, D.C., said she loved getting to interact with the students and hear their questions and ideas. She hopes to hear from more students as she readies for a tour to share her story at schools throughout the country.
"I like teenagers," Tinker said. "I like their energy. I like their curiosity and their friendliness, and I certainly got to feel that today."
Many of the students were from Jenny Kubic's AP government class, along with some from Windward High School. Kubic liked Tinker's message that rights come with responsibilities, and that standing up for what you believe in is more important than going along with what's popular.
"To see that somebody has been through that and took it to the limit and succeeded is good for them to hear," Kubic said of her students. "A lot of times they feel like there's no point because they're not going to succeed when they're pushing for rights."
Hearing from Tinker was a reminder for the students that their voices matter.
"I think it's really eye-opening that she, as a 13-year-old, was brave enough to go to court to fight for what she believes in," junior Ally Bagley said. "There are a lot of things all over the country that kids still have to fight for. Her case started kids realizing that they can speak out and change policy."
Senior Phylicia Thomas appreciated getting to hear from someone involved in such an important court case.
"Kids talk about freedom of speech a lot, but they don't know the extent of their freedom or the limitations," Thomas said.