Professor Sandel from Harvard U leads dialogue with young people at Complexo do Alemão

The PDR Institute, Humanitas360 and partners promote event to discuss justice, ethics and citizenship

When Professor Michael Sandel arrived in Rio’s Galeão International Airport a couple of weeks ago, he knew he had not come for a visit like the ones he had before. He had come to the country for a series of activities and wanted to take the opportunity of the trip to talk with young people from vulnerable communities in Rio de Janeiro.

Known for its grassroots work with social entrepreneurs and activists, the PDR Institute and Humanitas360 partnered with Coletivo Papo Reto, Mapa Educação and Atitude Social to organize a debate about justice, civic engagement and citizenship in Complexo do Alemão.

“We believe that social innovation is done practically and systematically, where fundamental themes such as ethics and justice are lived and experienced. When we heard about Professor Sandel’s interest in getting to know young people from the communities, we saw a great opportunity to involve civic social entrepreneurs that we work with and that are dealing with those subjects on a daily basis,” said Janaina Nascimento, the projects coordinator at the PDR Institute.

Social leaders, including Reginaldo Lima, a member of the PDR Institute advisory board, Raull Santiago from Coletivo Papo Reto and Renan Ferreirinha from Mapa Educação, led the visit giving the professor an overview of the socioeconomic reality of Complexo do Alemão and how grassroots movements have been generating positive impact in the communities.

After driving through the winding and steep roads of the Complex, Professor Sandel was received by Antonio Tiburcio, the director of the NGO Atitude Social, where the debate was going to take place. Filled with curiosity and eager to share their views, community members gathered around the professor as he conducted the debate as he usually does, encouraging a conversation.

Recalling real-life situations when they experienced injustice, participants talked about justice, prejudice, racism, lack of opportunities, poor quality education and living conditions.

“I believe that violence feeds this cycle of hatred and injustice. An example of that is when we are not allowed to go to the beach. This is a type of violence,” said community member Renata Trajano during the debate.

Sandel engaged in the conversation and listened closely to the young people, absorbing and learning from their experiences. According to Reginaldo Lima, the professor stirred up an important discussion and framed philosophical topics so that they became relevant to the reality of the community.

“I am very thankful in the name of the PDR Institute and our communities at Complexo do Alemão and Penha for the professor’s generosity and humbleness for sharing his expertise and knowledge,” added Lima.

Another participant also talked about the professor’s realistic approach to justice.

“We had an incredible time. Professor Sandel encouraged us to reflect on how complex but necessary is the concept of justice. Our conversation with him was unforgettable,” said Lana Souza.

Following the debate, the professor had the opportunity to see more of the community, including climbing the famous Penha steps, which lead to the top of the Complex.

“Some of my academic colleagues write about philosophy in a highly abstract and technical way. There is an important place for specialized work like that. But I also believe it is important for us to connect philosophy with the world, so it helps us to reflect about ethical dilemmas that we face in our daily lives. I think there is room for both approaches to philosophy. For me, philosophy does not dwell in the clouds, but in the cities, where citizens live,” said Professor Sandel during an interview to O Globo newspaper regarding his visit to the complex.

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