Special Project of the SPLC

Special Project of the SPLC Photo

The goal of the Tinker Tour, a nationwide bus trip, is to bring real-life civics lessons to schools and communities through my story and those of other young people. Almost five decades ago, I made a difference with a simple, black armband. Can you imagine what a 13-year-old could do today with all of the extraordinary speech tools available?

The Future We Are Creating

It's time to remind young people how truly powerful they are. 

Unfortunately, like many of us, students hear the stories about the doom and gloom that awaits them. And, like many, the first response is often simply to shrug one's shoulders and turn on the television or turn up the iPod. 

Yes, our next generation faces serious challenges. But, unlike at any other time in recorded human history, this generation is connected in a way that makes serious change not only possible, but inevitable. We are seeing it play out -- in real life -- around the world as young people (and young at heart) work together to demand change -- to demand better -- of their government, their media, their educators, their financial and social systems. Sometimes the change is big and global. Sometimes the change is small and personal. It all counts.

Change begins by believing change is possible. And that belief begins one person at a time, from looking within — and feeling their power to be the change they want to see.

We have seen the power of young people. Our goal, as we travel the country talking to students and their teachers, is to remind our next generation of who they are and what they can do.

To remind them of the power of a simple armband.

How We Are Creating It

My name is Mary Beth Tinker

Nearly a half-century ago, as a shy, 13-year-old, I was part of a small group of students who made history by wearing simple black armbands to school to mourn the dead in the Vietnam War. At the time, history was the last thing on our minds. But we did make history, eventually winning a landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding the First Amendment rights of students.

The Tinker ruling is still cited in nearly every student First Amendment case, and almost all American civics and history textbooks refer to it.  The case fascinates students, who often use it for their History Day project.

I am now a pediatrics nurse, but I also speak frequently with students about our case and the Constitution. But civics education is in dire straights. A recent study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that only one-third of Americans can name the three branches of government, and another third can’t name any.  One-third think the president has final say over decisions, and Supreme Court decisions can be appealed.

Last spring — though the Tinker Tour was just a dream — we successfully raised $50,000 here at StartSomeGood. That was about half of our goal for a nationwide bus tour so we toured the eastern half of the country.

The dream of the Tinker Tour is now a reality. It works! The Tinker Tour brings a real-life civics lessons to schools and communities. This spring, we want to continue spreading our message of student empowerment and finish our national tour by visiting schools and events West of the Mississippi. We already have more invitations than we can possibly entertain. And thanks to the success of our fall tour and support from those who understand the value of our mission, we have now raised or received pledges to meet about half of our spring tour budget.     

We are delighted that the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit organization with nearly four decades of experience supporting youth voices, will help us organize and promote the tour, as well as making a modest donation. They will also help collect funds under their 501(c)(3) umbrella, which will provide donors with tax benefits.


Our Story & Why You Should Support Us

Since our dream for the Tinker Tour was born last fall, Mike and I have been humbled to receive endorsements from many of the country's leading civics education, social studies education, civil righs and journalism education and journalism groups, including:

American Civil Liberties Union

American Society of News Editors Youth Journalism Initiative

Associated Collegiate Press

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools

Center for Scholastic Journalism

Close Up Foundation

College Media Advisers

The First Amendment Center

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Journalism Education Association

Junior National Young Leaders Conference

Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

National Constitution Center

National Council for the Social Studies

National Scholastic Press Association


Poynter Institute

Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier

Society of Professional Journalists

Street Law

Student Press Law Center

Teaching for Change


Mary Beth Tinker

Follow us @tinkertour