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How to be human: Youth leading youth in D.C.

How to be human: Youth leading youth in D.C.

Published: March 30, 2015
Photo: AFSC / Walter & Jenadine, AFSC interns

“Starting this human rights program has shown us how to be better human beings for ourselves and the world around us” claims Mika, a M.O.M.I.E.S. youth ambassador and 8th grader at Howard University Middle School in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the year, M.O.M.I.E.S. (Mentoring of Minorities in the Education System) ambassadors in D.C. have learned about their human rights and started advocating for social change.

Last semester, the ambassadors advocated for an end to police brutality through three methods of advocacy: 1) educating the public, 2) protesting police brutality and urging collaboration between the community and the police, and 3) expressing their feelings through artistic forms such as rap, poetry and painting.

Targeting real issues

This semester, the youth ambassadors selected human trafficking as the human rights issue they would focus on. In order to advocate to end this horrific modern form of slavery, the ambassadors chose to write and propose laws to their local council members that would work towards progress in the D.C. area.

In addition, they will continue to educate the public through media and local petition drives as well as create and implement a rehabilitation program at M.O.M.I.E.S., both for the victims and their relatives to help in their healing process and reintegration into society.

Learning the verbiage of the human rights and methods of advocacy has changed how this group of youth approach their fight against human rights violations.

Ambassador Mike expresses, “Human trafficking violates human rights… it is so underground and such a shock to learn about it. We as youth ambassadors for human rights want to do more to face the problem because it is a human rights violation that cannot be ignored. Most of the youth around us do not know about this. Knowledge of your human rights is vital to making the changes around us.”

Reaction and reflection

Learning about human rights and the issues in their local community, the youth ambassadors began to research the topics further.

“It was really surprising to learn the statistics around human trafficking. It is one thing to know it is a problem, but facing these facts and numbers let us see how big it is in reality,” explained the group.

“I could have learned so much and protected myself and others way better if I would have known,” stated Mika.

It is something that you should not react to when it happens to someone else but should know about. Everyone should know their human rights. For the youth ambassadors, “It was like finding out your own child has had an issue for years and you never knew. That is what it felt like to us—a smack in the face—to learn about this issue, how little is known about human trafficking, and how many human rights are violated."

Empowering voices

Human rights give advocates and victims alike the ability to express themselves and feelings about problems in their communities. This is a language that doesn’t know race or religion, ethnicity or nationality. Human rights give you voice simply for being human.

“As a human being, you have the right to your own opinion, but you must respect others and their right to have theirs.  Learning about human rights taught me that,” said Zari Prather.

Others in the group proclaimed, “As human beings, we all have an obligation to protect our own rights and the rights of others. It is amazing the things that can be done with the knowledge of what is due to you solely on behalf of your humanity.”

“Human rights give you power to respect yourself,” said Salaah. That is what this group is committing our time and passion towards.

Written by the youth ambassadors at M.O.M.I.E.S. TLC and DC Human Rights Learning participants