The 2014 Youth Human Rights Summit brought together young people from the AFSC-DC Human Rights Learning Project and other AFSC South Region youth programs. Ten youth were selected by their program directors to attend the summit in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2014. Youth were trained in human rights and how to effectively advocate before their elected officials at the local level, in Congress, at City Council (for D.C. youth), or the international level (United Nations) to bring about meaningful social change for lasting peace.

The D.C. Peace and Economic Justice Program, under Director Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana, launched a week-long Human Rights Summit last summer to offer youth participants from national AFSC chapters the opportunity to learn about human rights advocacy in Washington D.C., one of the few officially recognized ‘human rights’ cities. This year, AFSC-DC held their second annual Human Rights Summit in June, culminating in a successful day of advocacy at the Capitol!

Participants from New Orleans, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia and the District of Columbia arrived on Monday June 23rd to begin a week of exploration into a topic of their choosing. Prior to their arrival, each participant had selected an issue demonstrating a serious need or injustice in their immediate communities. For example, one student in New Orleans chose to rally for the implementation of an LGBTQ inclusive comprehensive sexual health curriculum in Louisiana public charter schools to teach students about the complex realities of sexuality and birth control methods.

A film tracing the evolution of international human rights introduced students to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational text helping to guide students towards effective advocacy practice. Participants were also introduced to other important inter-governmental organizations that manage human rights issues and violations, like the United Nations. Lectures from University of Hawai’i Professor Joshua Cooper about the inter-workings of the Universal Periodic Review and the list of United Nations international treaties also demonstrated to students how top-level institutions like the U.N. expose unsatisfactory human rights records and attempt to advance human rights practice from country to country.

Next, students were introduced to the Reflecting on Peace Practice Program (RPP), used to train peace-building professionals on the systematic implementation of effective peace programming. Youth then developed their own problem analysis, identifying main actors and key factors contributing to their chosen issue for the week. Finally, they were each able to draft individual theories of change, and articulate a pragmatic attempt to resolve the problems at hand.

To conclude the week, participants traveled down to the United States Congress and the District of Columbia City Council. On Thursday, June 26th, or “Advocacy Day,” youth visited and held meetings with their senators, representatives and councilmen. Whether or not they were ‘successful’ on this day became less important than the realization that each participant was well prepared to speak on behalf of the affected communities they were representing, and felt confident doing so.

By the end of the week, the progress made by each participant was evident and all youth graduated with a stronger background in human rights practice. The AFSC-DC office was proud to host such incredibly talented and driven young people, and hopes to release a report detailing the events and outcomes from the 2014 Human Rights Summit this fall.