The World As It Could Be – A Declaration of Human Rights, presented at Balboa High School on December 8, 2006, was the first production where the participating youth, through their thoughtful and creative expressions, provided insights about the significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In an early scene of the presentation, Alicia Raquel eloquently questions the relevance of the UDHR today and while holding the document in her hand, she says, “That was 1948 – this doesn’t mean anything to me today!” As the scenes unfold, we come to see, that, in fact, the UDHR has at least as much meaning today as it did when first adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

History lessons teach that coming out of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, the newly established UN needed an agreed-upon framework that promoted peace, respect, equality, justice and human dignity for all people, and an end to violent wars. On December 10, 1948, the Member Nations agreed to uphold the UDHR and all that is spelled out in its 30 Articles of universal rights.

While the world envisioned by the UDHR is not yet reality for far too many people, the knowledge that this agreed-upon framework exists continues to provide the context for critical thinking, problem-solving and positive actions in our most immediate circles. We can be inspired to right wrongs, be more mindful of how we all must act toward each other, and be engaged in our communities to address the issues that affect achievement of our universal rights.

Since 2006, students at our participating high schools, including Balboa, along with the youth involved with Destiny Arts Center and Youth Speaks, have continued to inspire us with their ideas about the UDHR, demonstrating the ways in which its different Articles need more attention as to their impact on our lives today, and how we can consider acting to address the highlighted issues. We are pleased to now put forward a series of excerpts from these outstanding presentations, along with some suggested discussion questions, that we hope you will use as part of your classroom and organizational work, as well as in conversations across your extended communities, to spark thinking and action to help us all move toward The World As It Could Be.

Excerpt Series Part I: Balboa Student on the UDHR and Personal Responsibility

At first, says this student, he didn’t think they needed to study these ideas, because they were common sense. But through the process of creating the performance, he realized that “a whole lot of people still don’t know about this, and that’s like a real big problem inside this world. Everyone should get treated the same way as you wanted to be treated… This whole process helped me with understanding how to treat another human being.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the student’s message regarding the responsibility for the rights of ourselves and others?
  2. Why does he think it is important for others to learn about the principles found in the UDHR?
  3. What point is he making about the document not being legally-binding?

Excerpt Series Part II: Arroyo Student on the Right to Freedom of Expression

The right to say “what I want, when I want, how I want,” and what happens when you choose words “made to degrade, to dehumanize, to make people feel less than.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What is Terrell telling us about the right to freedom of expression?
  2. How does his statement exemplify the responsibility we have when expressing ourselves freely?

Excerpt Series Part III: Right to Adequate Healthcare

A student explains that she’s always had a way with words — but it didn’t do any good when her grandmother landed in the hospital without insurance.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Kirya’s soliloquy relate to the dialogue on health coverage for all?
  2. What is she trying to communicate through her recounting of Article 25(1) of the UDHR?
  3. What choices/rights do people have if they are without coverage?

Excerpt Series Part IV: Mandela Students on Health and the Environment

One student talks about a vegetable garden he and some fellow students created with a local nonprofit to provide healthy food and teach the community about nutrition; another attributes conditions in her area to “environmental racism”; another talks about industrial pollution, much of it generated by the Port of Oakland, causing an increase in asthma rates in adjacent communities; a third asserts that residents of many neighborhoods have no access to fresh food; a fourth talks about multinational corporations buying up water rights–and why that means we have to take care of what fresh food and water resources we have.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do the Mandela students use the UDHR to take action to improve their community?
  2. Though the UDHR does not have an Article specifically about the right to a healthy environment, how can it still be used to advocate on this issue?

Excerpt Series Part V: Balboa Student Explains the Message of the UDHR

Citing Richard Dawkins, this student says “We’re all going to die, so what makes us significant? What is the meaning of life? It’s not 42. It’s UDHR.” It’s not just a document, it’s a message, it’s a meaning. We need art to bring this message to every individual.

Discussion Questions

  1. What “message” is the speaker referring to?
  2. How is he connecting the UDHR to our lives?
  3. What role does he think the arts can play in communicating “the message”?

Excerpt Series Part VI: “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way”

Manifesting the principles of the UDHR: Why it’s more than just a collection of words, it’s the foundation of positive changes we can make in our own lives.

Discussion Question

  1. How does the students’ message about “manifesting dreams” relate to the notion of realizing the principles embodied in the UDHR?

Excerpt Series Part VII: Student Shares his Thoughts on “Education is My Right”

“How do I know what to say, what to see? Because I am educated. Education is my right. Education is something that everyone should have to succeed, to fulfill our dreams…Education can give you better choices. Education gets you off the streets.” A teen who’s in the first generation in his family to graduate from high school reflects.

Discussion Questions

  1. What connections does Jose make between the Right to Education and other rights outlined in the UDHR?
  2. What is he communicating to us about the need for his voice to be heard?

Excerpt Series Part VIII: Fremont High Student Video on Making a Difference in the World

Before we can change the world, we have to change ourselves, says this student in a video pointing to problems in his community from crack addiction to the lack of healthy food.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Isaiah apply the UDHR to his life?
  2. What does he think is necessary for making the principles of the UDHR a reality?

Excerpt Series Part IX: Balboa Student Reflects on the Relevance of the UDHR to his life

Every day, says this student, he experiences some kind of discrimination–for his height, his skin color, whatever. “I wanted to send a message out to everyone that no matter where you come from, what race you are, it doesn’t matter–people should see you through only one thing, and that’s that you’re a human being.” Working on this performance, he learned to express his deep feelings.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the student’s interpretation of the “relevance of the UDHR”?
  2. How did learning about the UDHR help him find his “voice”?

Excerpt Series Part X: Fremont High Student Discusses Access to Food as a Human Right

A student says Michelle Obama and Oprah may advocate healthy eating, but there are no sources of healthy food in her neighborhood. This, she says, is a violation of her human rights.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Marisol recognize “access to quality food“ as a human right?
  2. What action does she suggest can be taken to address this issue in her community?

Excerpt Series Part XI: Being a Border Crosser

Article 13 of the UDHR declares the freedom of all people to leave their own country and return. That’s one kind of border crossing–but what about the borders we put up against each other?

Discussion Questions

  1. How does not listening to someone put a border between you and them? How is this damaging?
  2. What can you do in your own life to break down barriers?

Excerpt Series Part XII: Education Is Necessary for Healthy Growth

Article 26 of the UDHR guarantees universal education, at least in the elementary grades. Education is as necessary as food, light, air, and water for healthy growth.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important for everybody to be educated? How does it make life better for all?
  2. What kind of healthy growth does education promote? How do you see this in the lives of people you know?

Excerpt Series Part XIII: The Right to Marry

Article 16 says that all men and women of legal age have the right to marry — recognizing love and family as a basic human right.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is the marriage equality issue related to human rights?
  2. Does freedom of religion give you the right to make other people follow your beliefs instead of their own?