By: Joan Gildemeister, D.C. Peace and Economic Justice Program Committee

One and a half years ago, in a historic Resolution, the District of Columbia City Council declared the District of Columbia a Human Rights City. The bill acknowledged the city’s partnership with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and approved the creation of education programs that would teach D.C. youths about Human Rights.

AFSC, under the leadership of Jean Louis Peta Ikambana, has developed workshops and course curricula with the goal of teaching high school students about the Declaration of Human Rights and its applications. At Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school, 79 students have participated this year in the new course.

Dean Kem Cooper of Friendship Public Charter School has encouraged all 79 students in the Human Rights Learning course to develop initiatives and apply what they are learning to their own community projects and activities in and beyond the school year. Friendship Collegiate Academy, a pioneering charter school, attracts youths with a high motivation to contribute to the community and learn to lead. Students at Friendship have an intense interest in the subject of human rights and advocacy. The Human Rights course requires that students complete a Human Rights Action project. Friendship Collegiate Academy has provided many opportunities for students to become agents of change and has emphasized the programs’ relevance for today’s students of diverse backgrounds. Dean Cooper said the course is popular with youths.

Class assignments and activities in community service are evaluated and contribute to the student’s academic standing.  After many opportunities to identify threats to human rights in general, students are asked to identify human rights issues and the human rights needs of individuals as these are affected by local policies. Groups collaborate in defining and analyzing problems while outlining an Action Plan to achieve defined goals. A course plan will incorporate individual students’ contribution to the resolution of the problem. The Human Rights Action project is a significant part of the learning experience as students are asked to engage the community.

In an effort to provide enrichment and inspiration for the highly motivated Friendship Human Rights class participants, the local AFSC committee donated travel money for three students to attend the National Youth Leadership Conference in San Jose, California at the end of March, 2010. These travel funds were augmented by Friendship donors with support for ten students from the total of 37 who made the trip. The conference was a training ground for students to learn from others engaged in exploring the wide implications of the Declaration of Human Rights in various parts of the country.

Khalil Lee, one of the ten students sponsored for the trip by the local D.C. Program Committee, said he was most impressed by the wide opportunities in California and was inspired to apply to college there.

Danielle Lumpkins, another sponsored student, said that she learned about creative ways driving safety could be taught to students at Friendship. The visit and learning experiences at the conference gave her a taste of life away from home and an awareness of the importance of taking responsibility. She heard other students’ personal stories which led them to dedicate time and energy to human rights issues. She felt proud to represent her school and program and learned how to conduct herself while participating in conference workshops.

Briana Graham said that conference classes she attended helped her think about how she could influence others in making driving safe for others. She was impressed with the environment in California and noted that the streets are cleaner and the people more respectful. She said she would never forget the experience of attending the conference because “I was able to be placed outside my comfort zone and be open to new things.”

The field experience provided by the California conference contributed to other students’ informal learning as well. Some students interviewed indicated that the chance to take leadership and talk with students with interest in human rights was personally enriching.

William Foulkes said he learned how to get grants, and also expanded his contacts for companies that want to save energy. The course and the trip to California prepared him for the outside world and the expectations that he will seek to meet after graduation.

Adrian Bowie, a tenth grader, said that the conference gave him a chance to show what he had learned in his Human Rights classes and to learn from others who are interested in rights.