Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Recent presentations by Loretta Ross have greatly inspired me to think more about what it means to be human in these challenging times, and where we can go from here. In the first of the two presentations, Loretta explained that her motivation to be a human rights champion came from her work at the National Anti-Klan Network. She was encouraged by her mentor Reverend C. T. Vivian, founder of the Network, to be of continued support to people seeking to give up hate. He told her to read Martin Luther King’s last sermon delivered on April 3, 1968, to realize why this was so important.
In that sermon, Dr. King brings us through many periods of history, noting the social struggles of the time, to reflect on which, if given the choice, he might consider living in, only to arrive at 1968 as his choice, as he envisions a human rights revolution:
And another reason I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. (Yes) Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today. [Applause]
And also, in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done and done in a hurry to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty; their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. (All right) [Applause] Now I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding.
(listen to the audio recording)
I heard Ms. Ross describe her own life story that included struggles in grappling with being raped at the age of 14. I felt such admiration as she described her commitment to help people stop hating, work she continues today, as part of what she believes is the human rights revolution called for by Dr. King. As I read Dr. King’s sermon, I thought about how we as humans have struggled throughout history to stop oppression of others, realizing the continuum we are part of as we face current challenges. After all, what Dr. King describes as the challenge in 1968 persists today.
At a second presentation featuring Ms. Ross, I posed the question, “How do you connect your work in social justice with your work in human rights?” Ms. Ross replied that social justice work stems from seeing something going on around you that needs to be addressed, and taking action, rather than standing by. She then said, “Human rights is the global regime that makes social justice possible, providing the standards and norms that, when followed, can get rid of white supremacy.”
I bring this point up as we have a great opportunity before us to re-experience our humanity and help address the issues of racism, economic, political and social disparities that have been so blatantly exposed during these long months of the COVID crisis.
We can utilize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as Ms. Ross notes, as an internationally accepted framework that helps set the standards and norms of what every human being ought to experience in order to thrive with equality, justice and dignity. And, we can take inspiration from so many like Dr. King, Reverend Vivian and Ms. Ross, to do what we can in our most immediate circles to stand up for the respect and dignity of every person.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights… as an internationally accepted framework that helps set the standards and norms of what every human being ought to experience in order to thrive with equality, justice and dignity.
In this recent NY Times Opinion piece titled “Make Schools More Human,” Dr. Jal Mehta offers insights into how we can bring more human connection to our schools and help youth thrive. He offers an example of how 34 students across 11 schools and 7 states, even in the midst of COVID isolation, were able to create and produce a performance of a beautiful song encouraging us to “Make the World Better.” I hope you enjoy watching this uplifting video and take heart from our always-inspiring youth of all that is possible through our care and actions.
Best wishes for a new year filled with health, peace and hope.
With appreciation and best regards,
Sandy Sohcot, Director
“Make the World Better” by EL Education students during the covid19 crisis