On December 10, 2015, community members and activists gathered at Seattle Town Hall for the 16th Annual Human Rights Day event. The Seattle Human Rights Commission, in collaboration with Seattle Town Hall, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, UW Center for Human Rights, and other partners organized this free event around the theme, “Black Lives Matter” which was especially relevant just days after the death of Hamza Warsame, a 16-year-old Somali student at Seattle Central College. The evening opened with a reception and pre-program featuring poster presentations by UW students who participated in an intense research seminar that brought them to Washington D.C., where they explored different human rights issues.
Keynote speaker, Kimberlé Crenshaw, discussed race, power, and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement to a standing-room only audience in the Great Hall auditorium at Town Hall Seattle. Crenshaw, a professor at UCLA and Columbia, coined the term “intersectionality” in the 1980s, a term that is now being more widely used in discussions about identity and privilege. Professor Crenshaw concluded her presentation with a video, which begins by stating: “Historically governmental hearings have been held on men and boys of color, focused on elevating the various crises they face in order to create a sense of concern and urgency around their needs.” Then, the video goes on to depict the voices of “girls and women of color [who] have not received the same level of attention [as men and boys of color] leading to the incorrect assumption that they are not also suffering.”
Following Crenshaw’s presentation, the spotlight turned to local individuals and organizations addressing various issues of race and inequality in the greater Seattle area. They were honored by the 2015 Human Rights Awards which recognize exemplary work in promoting human rights initiatives. After accepting the awards, representatives from each of the organizations remained on stage with Crenshaw to answer questions about their efforts. They discussed the many challenges as well as the rewards of engaging in human rights advocacy and social justice. See awardees below.
2015 SEATTLE HUMAN RIGHTS AWARDS:
Rising Human Rights Leaders: Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, is a multi-racial, intergenerational community organization group that serves as a vehicle for young people to engage in anti-racist and anti-oppression education, and to take action in their schools and community to bring forth social change.
Individual Human Rights Leader: Mary Flowers, an organizer with more than 30 years of experience collaborating with community and government organizations in the fight to undo racism. She currently administers contracts for the City of Seattle’s Human Services department and works to incorporate undoing racism principles and community accountability in all aspects of her work there.
Business Human Rights Leader: On Point Real Estate’s mission is to provide a well-rounded, high quality and relationship-based real estate experience for their clients. On Point was recognized for its advocacy in human rights in the Seattle metro area.
Organization Human Rights Leader: Books to Prisoners (BTP) has, since 1973, provided free reading materials to tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals across the US. BTP provides tools for learning, literacy, and self-empowerment to people who otherwise have had no access to them.
Coalition Human Rights Leader: Rainier Beach Action Coalition’s mission is to implement the Rainier Beach 2014 Neighborhood Plan and build a connected, sustainable and equitable community, with quality education, living wage jobs, affordable transportation and housing for all. The Coalition includes Communities of Opportunities, South Communities Organizing for Regional and Racial Equity, Rainier Beach – A Beautiful and Safe Place, Rainier Valley Corps and the Rainier Beach Restorative Justice Project.
Artist Human Rights Leader: Nikkita Oliver is a Seattle-based artist, teacher, organizer and attorney. She is the 2014 Seattle Poetry Slam (SPS) Grand Slam Champion, the 2012 and 2013 SPS Women of the World Poetry Slam representative, a three-time SPS national team member and is coaching the SPS national team for the second time. She leads writing workshops with Arts Corp at Garfield High School, and is a teaching artist/mentor with Creative Justice, an arts-based youth program that provides alternatives to incarceration for youth who are court-involved.
Honorary Human Rights Award for Community Innovation: Africatown Innovation Center is a voice for preservation and development of the Black community in Seattle. Africatown aspires to be an epicenter of culture, commerce and innovation flowing to the rest of Seattle; a center of profound cultural characteristics that are uniquely African, including a myriad of food, dance, music, art, fashion, learning and much more.