"The world is changed one student at a time." This was the message from Allida Black to students from four different schools spanning Los Angeles.
This blog post is for those students.
"You have a choice," Allida told students in one way or another at every school. When confronting the evil of genocide, the Boston Bombings, or other violence, you can take from it a message of human evil or hatred, that there will always be violence OR you can say: I have seen goodness in the world. I have seen goodness from people who are not like me, and we need to find a way to communicate with each other.
Students from Wildwood School, the Carson School Complex, Crossroads School and Los Angeles School of Global Studies seemed to be looking for that communication, that opportunity to see and be good in this world, and I hope they’ll add their thoughts and stories to this post by commenting below.
Allida Black is Executive Editor of the fdr4freedoms digital resource, an education and advocacy program dedicated to the Four Freedoms: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. She is also Research Professor of History and International Affairs at The George Washington University, and the Founding Editor and Editorial Advisory Board Chair of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, a project designed to preserve, teach and apply Eleanor Roosevelt's writings and discussions of human rights and democratic politics.
Eleanor Roosevelt played a crucial role in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Allida therefore celebrated the significance and legacy of Eleanor's work by telling many stories of human rights in today’s world...
- the story of Linda, a 15-year old who wanted to become a doctor. Since her school didn't even have a chemistry lab she organized her entire school to strike for two days. A black school governed by a white school board in the American South and they were challenged by this 15-year-old girl. While Thurgood Marshall is often the "headliner" for legal actions in the Civil Rights Movement, it was this 15-year old, Linda Brown, who started what we now know as the landmark court case, Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, KS.
- the story of Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan, in northern Kenya who began the Horn of Africa development initiative. At the age of 23, Fatuma decided to go talk to all of tribal chieftains, one at a time, that punishment for violence against women should be the same as for men. She then started a soccer club for boys and girls with appropriate conduct respectful of traditional Muslim practice. They play teams in tribes with which they are or have been at war. The team members spend the night in their homes. She teaches "shoot to score, not shoot to kill." There has not been a young kid on young kid death in ten years since starting this program.
- the story of Ellen Johnson's presidential inauguration in 2006 after 17 years of horrific civil war in Liberia. "That day, people took their country back," she told 6th through 11th grade students at Wildwood School. She defied threats of violence by walking openly and announcing three goals for her administration:
- End corruption in government
- Make the children smile again
- Rebuild the schools
It takes vision and daring, having a dream and having the guts to say "I'm going to try this." Allida told these stories of amazing actions by individuals, and she told the story of Eleanor. Eleanor, like Ellen, Linda, and Fatuma, withstood threats of violence and faced fear. The KKK issued a huge reward for Eleanor Roosevelt, "dead or alive" and yet she traveled without bodyguards. People shot at her, tried to blow up a tree so it would fall on her, tried to poison her, but Allida described what she identified as the "gutsiest thing I have ever seen in my life" as Eleanor's visit to the worst refugee camps, the worst Holocaust camps you can imagine at the end of World War II. She saw more than anyone in the history of the world saw. And it is here that she was inspired to ask, “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”
Instead of giving in to cruelty as human nature, Eleanor chose to give people a new vision to believe in: human rights. Allida defined it in this way: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is about what we owe each other.”
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Eleanor recognized that human rights are not just political and civil, they include the right to food, shelter, nationality, education, a childhood, prevention of torture, to be paid for your work. She kept everyone at the table, despite their differences, to negotiate and adopt this declaration of rights. "We can either live in fear, or we can have the courage to look ourselves in the mirror and take one step at a time."
Allida captured it as three things she hoped all students would get from her talk:
- Human rights is the cause of our time.
- If you don't act, we're toast.
- It's fun to be brave. The friendships you make change your life.
The stories of Linda, Ellen, Fatuma, and Eleanor may seem larger than life. Allida told one student, “You're just as smart. Your heart is just as big.” I think that's true of every student I met during the day, and all of us. We just need to ask each other: What is it that gets you committed? What is your spark?
Click here to download Fundamental Freedoms: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Click here for short videos of Allida Black talking about Eleanor Roosevelt.