By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director
Before there was Houstory, the Home History Book archival journal and The Heirloom Registry, there were only ideas. And the man behind these ideas — the company founder — is a guy named Mike Hiestand, who also happens to be my big brother.
Before we officially launched Houstory in October 2011, both of us were involved in journalism: myself as a reporter and editor, and Mike as a media law attorney. We both believe firmly in the importance of a free press and the power of a well-told story, and have dedicated much of our professional lives to these causes. Admittedly, Mike has been at it a lot longer than me and in a much more targeted way.
Namely, he has spent 20-plus years affiliated with an organization called The Student Press Law Center (SPLC). During his award-winning career, he has provided free legal assistance to nearly 15,000 high school and college journalists/students and advisors in relation to laws regarding a variety of topics, including freedom of information, copyright, censorship, and the First Amendment. In other words, he has empowered a whole lot of young people with a civics education that they were able to take with them into adulthood and beyond.
Now, you’re not going to catch me gushing about my brother very often in public (after all, he is my brother after all, right? That’s against unwritten brotherly code.) But this is one of those rare occasions.
Simply put, Mike is an inspiring guy. He’s not a person who likes the limelight, but he likes to know he is making a difference. He let this passion guide his professional life. And for him, that passion was empowering high school and college journalists and advisors with their rights. The SPLC– a nonprofit just outside of Washington, D.C. — was his first job. It was also, as he says, his “dream job.”
Over the years, he became a prominent figure in the student press community. In fact, just last year, the Society for Professional Journalists named him the recipient of the prestigious SPJ First Amendment Award ”for extraordinary efforts to preserve and strengthen the First Amendment.”
Yeah, I’m proud.
So, what’s all this about you ask? Well, Mike is on the tail end of an historic civics education tour with American free speech advocate Mary Beth Tinker.
The pair have teamed up to travel the country in an RV on what has been dubbed The Tinker Tour — which officially started on Independence Mall in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center in mid-September and wraps up Nov. 25 in Kansas City, Mo. Working together, Mike and Mary Beth have reached out to colleges, high schools and other groups to “promote youth voices, free speech and a free press.” To date, as part of their fall tour east of the Mississippi, they have traveled more than 10,000 miles and have a couple thousand more to go.
As it states on their Web site: “The goal of the Tinker Tour is to bring real-life civics lessons to schools and communities through (Tinker’s) story and those of other young people.”
Mary Beth’s story started when she was a teenager in the 1960s and later became the basis of a Supreme Court decision (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District). This decision set the legal standard for student free expression for many years.
“It’s been a dream come true,” said Mike. “Mary Beth is truly a rock star in the world of student free expression rights, and this tour is helping to inspire a lot of kids and teachers.”
So, there you have it.
It may not be house history, family history or family heirlooms this week — but it is important. After all, Houstory is Mike, and Mike is Houstory. I think it is safe to say that as genealogists and family historians, we all have a vested interest making sure the information we seek remains accessible.
What do you think of the Tinker Tour? Do you think civics education is strong in the United States? Do you think its dangerous to empower kids with their rights? However you feel, let us know.