The University of Minnesota Human Rights Center has worked with teachers and community volunteers for years to promote human rights and non-discrimination in classrooms and the community. The most recent initiative, the Partners in Closing the Gap Project, aims to address the achievement gap and disparities in education based on race, class, and place. One aspect of addressing the gap is encouraging an inclusive classroom atmosphere, where students welcome, respect, and learn about diverse individuals and nations.
The project has been significantly enhanced by the participation of Humphrey Fellows, mid-career professionals who come to the Law School from around the world for a year of study and professional development in human rights, law, law enforcement, and other areas. Humphrey Fellows bring a wide variety of cultures, professions, and experiences from their native countries, and when they step into a high school classroom, they take on the role of ambassador.
Introduction to the Philippines in Brooklyn Park
Rommel Miranda, a Fellow from the Philippines, recently visited a world history class at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn. He introduced himself as a father of four and a superintendent of police and fondly described his country and its geography, history, political and educational structures, food, environment, and culture.
Miranda spoke candidly about human rights issues in police work in the Philippines and discussed the importance of perspective when evaluating the effectiveness of a police force. For example, he said, 1,000 police officers can do their job well, but if one officer does something unethical, people see only the “bad cop.” His country is careful to dismiss officers who do not follow procedure, he said, and for the most part, he is quite pleased with the 700 officers he supervises.
He also presented a slide show, which was very informative, said Margaret Sausen, who noted that many in her class who are typically restless were captivated and listened attentively during Miranda’s visit. Students were invited to ask questions, and they did so freely.
“The visit was enlightening for me,” Miranda said. “It gave me a closer perspective of teenagers here in the U.S. I wish we could have the same resources in the public schools in my country. I can see in Margaret the sincere desire to teach as well as to help kids finish school.”
Sausen has been highly involved with the Human Rights Center, and she said that her students greatly appreciated the opportunity to have a guest speaker. “Rommel has such a nice way about him, and he relates well to the kids,” she said. “They loved hearing about both his personal and professional life.”
Lithuania, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire Come to North Minneapolis
Additional Humphrey Fellows and students at other Minneapolis schools had similarly positive experiences.
Jolanta Samuolyte from Lithuania made two visits to Broadway High School, an alternative program in North Minneapolis serving pregnant and parenting teens. Samuolyte is the legal director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in Lithuania and as a Humphrey Fellow is working on innovative advocacy strategies and other issues. She and her community partner, Artemis Ahmadi (LL.M. Class of 2010), designed and led discussions about human rights with the high school girls.
Kathya Abreu de Sousa, a public defender who provides legal aid to prison inmates in her home country of Brazil, spoke to a social justice class at Patrick Henry High School in the Camden area of North Minneapolis. Her work helping prisoners exercise their rights and her interest in developing and protecting human rights worldwide took social justice beyond the classroom for the students.
Rachel Kouame, a 2010 Fellow at Vanderbilt who is studying in Tennessee, recently attended a workshop in Minnesota and made time to visit Prestige Academy, a charter school in North Minneapolis. She shared details about her home, Cote d’Ivoire, with a small group of students and spoke passionately about the need for them to stay focused on their dreams of higher education and professional careers. The Prestige students reciprocated her warm hugs and were moved by her interest in their futures.
Inspiration From Within
The Partners in Closing the Gap Project continues to offer an avenue for cross-cultural exchange and learning. The hope is that well-educated professionals from different cultures and races will inspire students to realize their dreams of exciting and rewarding careers, and that the students will become leaders in promoting human rights and creating a culture of peace. The Partners Project is made stronger and more relevant by the Humphrey Fellows’ unique perspectives, experiences, and work toward a tomorrow of equal rights.