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North Carolina youth advocate for equal rights

North Carolina youth advocate for equal rights

Published: October 18, 2012

Visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial after learning about human rights was a highlight of the group's trip to Washington.

Photo: AFSC / Photo: Sheila Hoyer

A group of Quaker youth in Greensboro, N.C., troubled by their state’s outright ban on same-sex marriages, approached AFSC this summer to get a better understanding of human rights.

Within the group, the general sentiment was that the U.S. Constitution is meant to name freedoms, not take them away, explains the group’s facilitator, Sheila Hoyer.

“Our youth have a strong concern for equal rights for all, especially the oppressed gay community in our state,” she says. “It's a very personal issue to this group.”

With a desire to learn more, the group traveled to Washington, D.C., where they visited Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana and Monica Shah of AFSC’s Peace and Economic Justice Program. The program offers education and training around issues of human rights and peace building.

They started their day of learning and discussion with a lesson on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was new to all of the students. They talked about how it applies to them, their school, and their state.

Afterward, the group brainstormed different practical actions they could take to safeguard human rights by sharing their perspectives.

The first task was to advocate on behalf of human rights in the form of equal marriage rights. While in Washington, they worked with the Human Rights Campaign to make over 900 phone calls to residents of Maryland—earlier this year, the state’s legislature expanded marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples, but a referendum on the ballot this November gives voters the chance to affirm or overturn the law.

Making these calls was the highlight of the trip, says Sheila. In talking one-on-one with so many people and sharing their perspectives from North Carolina, the youth hope to have an impact on the vote.

They also want to have an impact in their own state.

Through a conversation on human rights in their own lives, they decided that school bullying was the most relevant and encompassing issue for them to address.

The group decided to make a video that links human rights to school bullying, which they intend to enter it in "If I Had a Trillion Dollars," the annual youth film festival sponsored by AFSC and the National Priorities Project. They started production while in Washington.

One student said that he was inspired by his peers’ working out how they could make a difference in their schools.

They rounded off the trip by visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial. Its beauty and inspirational quotes on human rights and dignity touched and motivated the youth even further, explains Sheila, adding that the trip was “a fascinating and meaningful adventure for us all.”