This year, over the week of June 23, AFSC hosted its second annual Human Rights Youth Summit in Washington, D.C., organized by AFSC’s D.C. Director of Peace and Economic Justice, Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana, and his intern assistant Kiely Barnard-Webster. The youth came from participating AFSC offices in D.C., West Virginia, New Orleans, and North Carolina.

The purpose of the summit is to engage young people and see how much they know about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and provide them with effective tools that enhance their ability to advocate local and national issues with policy-makers. Many of the young participants had very little or no prior knowledge about the 30 articles in the UDHR, and were excited to learn how they can be influential when used appropriately to analyze selected local problems. From our North Carolina program, we recruited Julia Keehn (a former Elon University student who will be attending George Mason University in the fall as a sophomore), Juliet Smith (senior at Guilford College) and David Wheaton (senior at Guilford College). Julia and Juliet wrote the following reflections on their experiences:

JULIA KEEHN (Elon University)

Participating in the American Friends Service Committee Human Rights Youth Summit was an unforgettable learning experience filled with deep conversations, educational workshops, wonderful people, and a palpable sense of duty to human rights work. Being surrounded by driven, like-minded people with visions for universal peace and equality has inspired me to work every day for a world I can be proud to live in. As cheesy as it may sound, in being a part of this summit I learned that not only do I want to “be the change I wish to see in the world,” but that I can be.

Human Rights violations are unfortunately something that we see in our world every day, from being forced to work unreasonable hours at a job you hate to being denied food because of your race. People deserve to know that we have rights beyond what has been outlined for us by the politicians of our respective countries, that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is just that – universal, this is one of the major lessons I learned at this year’s Youth Summit.

This week focused a lot on strategies for speaking with our elected officials regarding instances of human rights violations all over our country. Through workshops, videos, and conversation we were able to come up with a comprehensive understanding of what it means to advocate for ourselves and our rights. Participating in this program has given me a well rounded introduction to the world of human rights activism and I look forward to furthering my knowledge with the help of AFSC and its’ community of peacemakers.

JULIET SMITH (Guilford College)

Before the Human Rights Summit, I had very little knowledge about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I had heard about the UDHR, but I was completely unaware of what it was actually comprised of. Now, I feel like I actually know what my inherent rights are as a human being, and feel confident in my ability to defend myself, and others, when I witness a human rights violation. I have learned how to use the UDHR as a tool for change, and by the end of the Summit I was able to implement my knowledge while defending the rights of immigrants in a meeting with Kirk Bell, Congressman Coble’s Senior Legislative Assistant. Although I am unsure of whether the Congressman himself will be willing to support me in my efforts to eliminate the 34,000 Detention Bed Mandate, I was able to plant the seed in his head and make my voice heard at the House of Representatives.                                                                                                                      

One of the reasons I chose the Detention Bed Mandate as my issue to bring to Congressman Coble’s attention is because of the huge immigrant population in Greensboro, NC, where I attend Guilford College. The Bed Mandate is essentially a quota of 34,000 beds that are expected to be filled with immigrants at any given time, whether or not they pose a legitimate threat to the public or have any criminal record. The rights of these immigrants are being violated, especially regarding Article 9 of the UDHR which states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” I also chose this issue because it already has such a strong support group for elimination. There is a proposal for this quota to be eliminated in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, so with enough help, Representatives Ted Deutch and Bill Foster may be able to achieve the elimination of quota language and the immigrants being arbitrarily persecuted will be entitled to the rights they deserve.

My vision is to keep spreading word about the unjust treatment of these immigrants who are being unfairly detained, and to also construct a cultural sensitivity program geared towards law enforcement officials and others who do not know how to properly deal with cultural diversity. If more people are taught to respect the rights of immigrants, and those who are not native to the United States, then I believe that as a country we will be able to more effectively embrace our claim of being a nation of equality. 

DAVID WHEATON (Guilford College)

The AFSC Youth Human Rights Summit was an experience of a lifetime. Before I got to the summit I knew that I would learn about human rights, but did not know that my time at the summit would change my outlook on human rights. The experience was great, we learned from human rights experts and different organizations helped us form our lobbying strategies.

Lobbying Congress for human rights was a great experience and I look forward to taking what I learned at this summit and sharing it with my community. After going to the summit I now want to make sure that my presence on Capitol Hill does not go in vain. I am going to follow up with Congressman David Scott office and also make sure that housing for the most vulnerable in Georgia is a topic for debate. As a state we need to come up with effective solutions that help the people of Georgia stay in their homes.

This week has taught me a lot about myself and the work I want to do in the future. I am so thankful to the AFSC staff for letting me participate in such a wonderful event and I look forward to hearing great things about the program next year. As for me, I will continue taking the knowledge and resources that I gained during the summit and using them to help change my community.