Human Rights in our Backyards


As the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, I’m often asked about the “human rights” part of our name and mission. We have always applied basic human rights standards to the issues and challenges facing communities of color and working people in our work. I believe that every person has the right to safety, dignity, equality, and self-determination. My mission in life and the work of the Ella Baker Center is to defend and advance these rights.

Every human being has the right to feel safe where they live, in their communities and in the country they call home. Only with that security can we be healthy, thriving people who contribute to our nation. I can’t help but think of all the wasteful, failed policies our country adopts under the false premise of safety.

Take the SAFE Act for example. Tearing families apart by locking up parents in detention centers and pushing through mass deportations does nothing for the stability or safety of our communities. We must end mandatory detention and curb the skyrocketing detention rates if we truly want to ensure safety for all families that live in our country.

When I think about dignity as a human right, my mind goes to a younger version of myself--- a young, Black boy often written off as a lost cause or threat. Sadly, this reality is the story for young men of color decades later. No one should have to bow their head in public to avoid being assumed to be a threat. No one should be dismissed as “less-than,” or a danger because of the hoodie they wear, the music they listen to, or the color of their skin.

In this day and age, as soon as I hear the word ‘equality’ I think about marriage equality. Same sex couples have always had the right to commit to their partner. Now our government, courts and laws must acknowledge, honor and protected for the good of our society. Just last week the first marriage licenses were handed out to same-sex couples in Washington State. And In the next few months the US Supreme Court can settle this once and for all, by striking down Defence of Marriage Act and California's Prop 8 as unconstitutional.

In my lifetime alone, so much progress has been made. But we must continue to defend and advance the human right to protect your relationship for all couples- gay, straight, queer and everything in between.

When I think of human rights, I also reflect on the idea of self-determination. Especially in a country built on a democracy, all of us deserve the right to have a say in the future of our communities and our country. We must tirelessly commit to the right to vote for all Americans. We must register and re-register to vote and encourage our families and neighbors to register. And we must fight hard against right-wing attempts at voter suppression which threaten not just our democracy but our right to self-determination as individuals.

On this Human Rights Day, I can’t help but also remember Miss Ella Jo Baker who helped an entire generation of young people speak out for their human rights. And as Miss Baker once said, ““The struggle is eternal. The tribe increase. Somebody else carries on.” The Ella Baker Center builds on her legacy, working to bring more and more people into the movement as we carry on the work and keep going for generations to come until human rights are a reality for all.