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D.C. celebrates 10 years as a Human Rights City

ONE D.C.’s Maurice Cook Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC
D.C. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh with AFSC DC Program Associate Rachel Bergsieker Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC
Former AFSC DC Program Director Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

In 2008, the American Friends Service Committee was critical in leading efforts to declare Washington, D.C. a Human Rights City. Last month marked the 10th anniversary of that designation.

In honor of this milestone, the AFSC’s DC Peace and Economic Justice Program organized a Human Rights Week of Action from December  10-14, 2018.

This week began on International Human Rights Day (December 10) and concluded with a community open house at ONE D.C.’s Black Workers and Wellness Center on December 14.

The open house event, “Celebrate & Renew: D.C. Human Rights 10th Anniversary,” was both a celebration of D.C.’s human rights history and a renewed call to action for the next 10 years of human rights work in the city. Speakers included D.C. City Councilmember Mary Cheh, ONE D.C.’s Maurice Cook, and AFSC’s General Secretary Joyce Aljouny, as well as spoken word performances by Dwayne B. Lawson (The Crochet Kingpin) and Morgan Butler (Momo the Mermaid) of Busboys and Poets.

During the gathering, Ward 3 Councilmember Cheh presented the group with a resolution recognizing the AFSC’s collaboration offering education grounded in a human rights framework: “Whereas the District of Columbia Public Schools has partnered with the American Friends Service Committee to create courses that teach our students about human rights values, increase their knowledge and understanding of human rights and empower them to become educated and engaged citizens.”

The AFSC curated a blog series from this week of action, featuring writing from partners including the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, DC Jobs with Justice, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Empower D.C., Jewish Voice for Peace D.C. Metro, and U.S. Human Rights Network’s National Human Rights Cities Alliance. The series includes perspectives framing successes and demands for improvement in seeking human rights for all in a true Human Rights City.

Human Rights Week of Action Blog Series: Post 8 by Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana, former Director of AFSC’s DC Peace and Economic Justice Program

Note from Program Associate Rachel Bergsieker: Jean-Louis is well-known for his dedication to advancing human rights locally and globally. In 2008, Jean-Louis led a grassroots coalition in successful advocacy to establish D.C. as the first Human Rights City in the United States. During his tenure at AFSC, Jean-Louis also established our Human Rights Learning Program, which seeks to expand human rights education to D.C. students. Through this program, students use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a framework to identify, define, analyze, and take action to address human rights violations in their own communities.

Having led DC’s human rights city movement for its first nine years, the AFSC asked Jean-Louis to share his vision for DC in its second decade as a human rights city. Given his passion for education, it is not surprising that Jean-Louis’s vision for D.C.’s future as a human rights city is centered around that topic. He writes:

My vision for D.C. in its second decade as a Human Rights City is a full realization of its real meaning: “A Human Rights City is one whose residents and local authorities, through on-going discussions and creative exchanges of ideas, come to understand that human rights, when widely known as a way of life, assist in identifying the issues and informs the actions in our DC communities, for meaningful, positive economic and social change.” Futhermore, I dream of a city where every DC Public School student knows and understands the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is motivated to become an agent of peace and social justice.

Jean-Louis now serves as the Director of Partnerships for TEACH-NOW.

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