A couple of months ago, I applied for sponsorship to attend the Amnesty International USA Human Rights Leaders Institute from July 28-30 in Chicago. Human rights has always been a passion of mine and one that I first acted on in high school when I started an Amnesty International club despite my intense shyness and social anxiety disorder. Recently, I’ve felt the need to reconnect with that passion as I’ve contemplated my goals and priorities now that I’m 30.
Later, I had a call with the Field Officer and was invited to attend. I won’t go into the details of our activities; I’d rather focus on my takeaways from the weekend.
First, I met a lot of smart and inspiring people at the HRLI, including the women who I will be working with here in Baltimore. I made instant connections with some and for others, I developed a respect and admiration gradually over the three days.
Second, I was reminded of the problems that plague mostly white-led organizations, whether they acknowledge it or not. I don’t entirely believe these issues can be solved since whiteness always comes with blind spots despite the best of intentions. But the problems can only be brought to light and addressed when a wide range of people of color are active participants and decision-makers in every aspect of an organization.
I also felt re-energized after leaving the conference. For the past couple of months, I have been taking a break from actively leading or organizing around social issues to focus on personal goals to which I hadn’t been able to devote the necessary time and effort. I came to the HRLI with no decisive result in mind. Since I just returned a few days ago, this hasn’t changed, but the regional planning sessions did invigorate me the most. These were sessions where regional groups met to discuss and plan our group agendas. The chemistry between the Baltimore women was effortless. As I usually do when making plans, I felt my excitement rising for the possibilities of human rights activism in my city. Our ability to set concrete goals and have a meeting of minds with no tension made me optimistic about future efforts together.
The closing exercise was an unexpected and slightly uncomfortable, but invaluable experience. Everyone stood in a circle facing outwards and closed their eyes. After everyone gave consent, a smaller group stood inside the circle and touched individuals on the shoulder or back who they felt matched the prompt being called out. For example, the exercise leader said “someone who showed you kindness” and people in the middle of the circle walked around to touch those who had shown them kindness that weekend. A few people started tearing up and crying, myself included. I can’t even put my finger on why, but it speaks to the power of physical human contact and kindness. It’s not every day that we express appreciation for others and it’s a powerful act to give and receive it at the same time.
This, along with new relationships, new skills, and renewed motivation, is what I will take away from the HRLI.