June 18, 2020

Teen human rights institutes to be held online

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
human rights symposium
Caption: Bethlehem student Zoe Thomas said that since participating in the Capital Region Teen Human Rights Symposium two years ago, she has become involved with several human rights activism groups at school and in her community. Photo by NYSUT Communications.

Two summer human rights activism symposiums for teens are going to be held in the virtual world.

The Capital Region Teen Human Rights Symposium is taking its annual summer program online June 29–July 1 to continue its work in education and activism, focusing strongly this year on racial justice and reliable media to get information on current events and COVID-19.

The Summer Symposium, typically held in West Seneca, will also be held online this year from July 13–17 for students wanting to learn about solutions to today’s environmental, social and humanitarian problems. Because it is taking place online, the symposium is open to students across the United States. This year’s program is heralding “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” to commemorate the centennial passage of the 19th amendment providing white American women the right to vote. Students can explore pressing issues facing women, and also learn about combating racism and living under COVID-19.

Although organizers in the Capital Region were concerned that few students would want to take part because they have spent the last three months on screens every day for school instruction, 85 students have already signed up for the program. Registration ends after Friday at capitalregionhumanrights.org/register/.

“As an educator-led organization, we believe education is the first step toward progress,” said Thea MacFawn, co-organizer of the symposium and a member of the North Colonie Teachers Association. “We reaffirm our commitment to teaching racial justice. We will continue to support young people as they speak truth to power and to provide opportunities and resources to help them engage in this critical work.”

NYSUT has supported the symposium since it began six years ago, and typically hosts it in Latham at the union headquarters.

MacFawn said it’s important for young people to amplify their voices. The symposium provides them with knowledge, historical perspective, and sources of action.
One session this year will be on media information literacy, presented by co-organizer Kelly Wetherbee, a school librarian with the North Colonie TA.

Bethlehem student Zoe Thomas said that since participating in the symposium two years ago, she has become involved with several human rights activism groups at school and in her community.

“At the symposium I learned how to organize events,” she said. This year she helped coordinate a Thrift and Rescue clothing drive at school. Donated clothing was sold at thrift store prices, and the effort raised $800 for Polaris Project, which helps victims of human trafficking.

Yesterday Thomas met with the head of the English department at her school to discuss why only one black author has been assigned in four years. Tomorrow, June 19, she is helping to stage a Read-In at the Bethlehem High School at noon, where students and alumni are invited to come, and, wearing masks and practicing safe distancing, read a poem or book excerpt from an author of color. It will be followed by a protest at 2 p.m. to address the need for training on racial bias and racism within the school.

The symposium will also tackle the theme of literature. One of the workshops is a study of Poets on the Rise, poems of different social movements. Students will be invited to write their own poems. Other sessions include Young People at the Forefront of Social Justice, Community Response to COVID-19 and Reversing Runaway Inequality.

Thomas is eager to take part in the symposium again this year.

“I’m really looking forward to connecting with people from other schools and setting up events for Black Lives Matter,” said Thomas, who is heading into her senior year.

The Capital Region Teen symposium is open to freshman to graduating seniors interested in learning about individual and group activism for social justice and international relations. All participants will be given the book “Education of an Idealist” by Samantha Powers, former ambassador to the U.N., who will also be speaking to students at the symposium.

Cidra Sebastien, who was executive staff member of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a New York City social justice youth organization, will also be presenting.

The Buffalo-based Summer Symposium is sponsored by the Academy for Human Rights and co-sponsored by Erie 1 BOCES.  The Academy also offers professional development programs throughout the year for educators. For students wishing to explore this summer program, and to register, visit academyforhumanright.org.

Andrew Beiter, a teacher with the Springville Faculty Association and co-founder and executive director of the Academy for Human Rights along with Lori Raybold, Hamburg TA, has been coordinating the Buffalo symposium for 13 years. It was originally called the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies.

Local and international speakers will address women as a weapon of war; women’s suffrage; minority women shattering the glass ceiling; and becoming culturally competent.

Nadah Odeh, a Syrian artist, activist, humanitarian and a modern-day poet, will talk about human rights through art. 

Alexandra Zapruder, who began her career as a founding staff member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., will discuss understanding teenagers living in the Holocaust.