Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

                                                                                           –Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


TWAICB Director Sandy Sohcot writes: Last week at the REACH Ashland Youth Center Program, several of us from The World As It Could Be Is Within REACH Rite of Passage Program—co-facilitator Michael Alexander, program alum Maurice Sampson, and I—were invited to present information about the UDHR to the participants of the ASAP Program (A Shot At Peace). As we’ve found previously, none of the 10 participants, except the two currently in the Rite of Passage class, had ever heard of the UDHR. After explaining the history of the UDHR and reading it through, we asked for comments and questions. One person said, “These rights sound really good, but they don’t apply in my world.” Another said, “I think these rights only apply to people with money.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard responses like these, questioning why anyone should care about the existence of this document if so many people are still far from experiencing the conditions it calls for. And, as increasingly loud political rhetoric spews disrespect for the rights of others, I can be deeply discouraged myself!

So, does knowing your rights make a difference in working toward their achievement?

My own position is that knowing about the UDHR and its history does help drive positive change toward a world in which everyone experiences these rights. If you understand that the UDHR came into being to have an international agreement that provides these conditions and fosters peaceful resolutions of differences, you can recognize it as a means to hold policymakers and political leaders accountable. When we see everyday circumstances in our local and extended communities through the lens of these rights, we can direct our most immediate actions to honoring positive efforts and addressing the wrongs we see.

For instance, in our REACH Rite of Passage class, we are using Article 3, about the right to life, liberty and security of person, as the basis for a community action project, focused on education and police relationships as they relate to this right in everyday reality.

To me, knowledge is power that inspires action. This morning, I read an op-ed by Charles M. Blow (#CharlesMBlow) in the New York Times titled “Learning Lessons From Outrage,” where he reflects on the conditions that allow demagoguery to stir up hatred and potential violence–conditions not unlike those that brought on the horrors that ultimately led to the creation of the UDHR! Mr. Blow recommends, “I hope that we learn to constantly center the ideal at that core of the current offence: enlightenment, equality and idealism. I hope that we learn that progress is not an unfailingly, upward, inexorably positive movement, but an awkward and clumsy dance in which we lurch forward three steps and stumble back two.”

I hope that as more and more people know about the UDHR, they will create increased momentum to hold ourselves and others accountable to its principles. This will take ongoing effort, often against strong headwinds. It is my greatest hope as we make strides in this endeavor; that, upon reading Article 2, all people will see themselves in its words.

What do you think?