Human rights violations can happen anywhere, even in suburban Long Island. That’s why Nassau County held its 31st Annual Human Rights Awareness Conference for High School Students on February 2, 2017. Adelphi’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education hosted local government officials, nonprofit leaders and more than 270 high school juniors and seniors from 20 school districts across Nassau County to learn about human rights issues at home and abroad.
The Nassau County Human Rights Commission and Ammon School event was co-sponsored by organizations including the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County and the Nassau County Police Department to teach students, through interactive workshops, important lessons on peace, cooperation and respect.
In a written statement, County Executive Edward P. Mangano said it was vital to increase human rights awareness and understanding and make a positive difference, noting, “It is our firm belief and hope that the learning experience of this conference will favorably influence the current and adult attitudes of all conference attendees.”
The students were welcomed by Jane Ashdown, Ed.D., dean of the Ammon School, and Michelle Blackwell, director of the Scholar Teacher Education Program (STEP) at Adelphi. The students then separated to attend one of eight workshops focusing on crucial and relevant social issues ranging from HIV/AIDS stigma and sexual assault to Islamophobia and police brutality.
“We try to pick topics that are relevant to what’s going on in the world as far as discrimination, intolerance and things of that nature,” said Rodney H. McRae, interim executive director of the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights.
The conference concluded with a special production by Associate Professor Maggie Lally ’82’s Department of Theatre freshmen. Titled “We Are U.S.,” it was described as a performance of identities and “what it means to be part of a young, diverse community in these tumultuous times.”
“Everything they’re saying is their truth,” Lally explained. “After the election, the students were devastated about the lack of civility in the country, and they’re not all liberal.” Being a montage of diverse voices, it was important for Lally to let all her students’ voices be heard.
Adelphi senior Maya Faison was also brought on board for the performance, and gave an elegant monologue about her “Melanin Metamorphosis,” which she described as discovering and coming to terms with her own racial makeup.
“It was so refreshing to have such a diverse cast of voices,” said Karleigh Giguere. “In the end, we all welcomed and accepted each other.” Giguere is a first-year theater student who grew up in a conservative Christian household.
“Everything can be settled with one loving conversation at a time,” Lally told her students—words they take to heart and use as inspiration to connect with one another and understand issues throughout the world.
Through these conferences, Patrice Armstrong-Leach, assistant dean in the Ammon School, hopes to “elevate the discussion, educate these young people and empower them to regard their citizenship as an active right and responsibility.”