“To teach is to inspire.” This maxim is often applied to educators as it pertains to their influence on students, and rightfully so. However, a select few educators, through their actions and efforts, inspire and impact not only students, but also other teachers and the public alike. James Gang is one of those select few.
James Gang is a social studies teacher at Hamburg High School near Buffalo, NY and a participant in a multitude of Holocaust-related teacher institutes and workshops including the Museum’s Belfer National Conference and Museum Teacher Fellowship. Beyond creating and teaching a class entitled Holocaust and Genocide Studies at his school, James has taken great strides in becoming an active participant in documenting the stories of local Holocaust survivors as well as becoming an advocate for, and educator of, assistance to modern humanitarian issues.
In the past few years, James has been tireless in his efforts for Holocaust and genocide education. He holds a leadership position at the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies, which is designed to provide students with the opportunity to hear human rights experts, historians, and advocates as well as take part in activities to inspire students to engage in their communities to have a positive impact on the world in which they live. He also has involved students at his school in raising awareness through the creation of Students for Humanity. This organization has participated in a wide array of assistance efforts locally through volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters and with global efforts by working with other organizations to helping settle refugee families in Buffalo. This success led to the growth of student participation and led to larger projects, even raising enough money to pay for the construction of a school in Haiti. James saw his efforts building to a greater purpose, as he states, “Everyone one was getting it… there is no ‘Us and Them,’ only an ‘Us’ and we need to help each other.” As James continued his work, the Syrian refugee crisis exploded and his efforts, and those of his student group, directed their attention to this new cause. They began working with Help4Refugees and the student club raised enough money to fund one prefabbed caravan for the Zatarri refugee camp in Jordan to protect two Syrian refugee families from the bitter cold winter. They also joined forces with the students from the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies to raise funds for a second caravan later that same year. He and his students were making a difference and their impact was being felt in their community and the world at large.
Remarkably, in addition to his teaching load and leadership of Students for Humanity, James found time to work for the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo and now is a leader of the New Generation Initiative of the center. In his work for the center James records the testimonies of local Holocaust survivors and edits them to an appropriate length and content for classroom use. James sees this work as particularly rewarding, “I think many of us tend to put survivors on a pedestal, I’m not saying they don’t belong there, but by doing this job, I get to see all of the bumps and bruises, I get to see that they are human, just like you and me, they just happened to live through and survive extraordinary times.” Thus, James is working to effect change both in the present and the future, through education about the past and preservation of testimony for the future.
In reflecting on James’ contributions, Andrew Beiter, education director at the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo remarked, “What makes Jim Gang’s Holocaust education classes so unique is that he take the material from his students heads, to their hearts, to ultimately their hands, getting them involved in a myriad of ways that help tighten the social fabric of their community…He is a gift to our community and someone that I can always count on to set an example for all of us.”
James continues to feel, and more importantly his work reflects, the impact of the profound experience provided by the Museum: “Learn from this. Realize what gift we have been given and make something happen. Realize the potential that exists inside each one of us. Keep in touch with each other and use each other. Keep working, keep teaching, keep inspiring, keep learning. Be the change!” Without a doubt, he is the embodiment of his own words.
We could all do well to be inspired by James Gang and his continued efforts to make a difference in his classroom and his community, both in upstate New York and around the world.
Links to the key resources and sites mentioned in the article are below:
Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies: http://www.summerinstituteofbuffalo.org/
Help 4 Refugees:
Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo:
New Generation Initiative: