As a recipient of the 2011-2012 Cornell Civic Leaders Fellowship Program, Kirby Edmonds will be providing human rights workshops to local area schools and youth programs. His proposal also contains a second project, "Building Bridges," a program that brings community organizations together for workshops to collaborate on creating a just and sustainable local economy. The work will be done through the Dorothy Cotton Institute (DCI), where Edmonds is a senior fellow. The Institute's central vision is to create a world wherein people are fully able to both protect and exercise their human rights.
The Ithaca Times spoke with Edmonds to learn more about the programs in his proposal.
Ithaca Times: Where the idea for the proposal come from?
Kirby Edmonds: The DCI is at this point is working nationally with other kinds of organizations building human rights networks, and this particular proposal calls for something local. So I picked something that we were doing locally that I'm very engaged in.
IT: Were these two local projects in existence before the proposal for Cornell?
KE: Yes. We did workshops all last year. And the second project, Building Bridges is actually responding to a different kind of need locally. There is a collaboration of many different organizations around the community who see a need for a real commitment to both a just and sustainable local economy. Although there are a lot of people in the Tompkins County area who are working on social justice, who are working on economic development, who are working on environmental sustainability, those efforts do not tend to coalesce around a central issue. So that project is bringing a variety of leaders together to get a sense of a shared vision, and then to identify some specific activities that become a core organizing vehicle around four themes (shared analysis and vision, building relationships across race, class, and place, building capacity in variety of sectors of community, and an investment strategy). So that's what the workshop is for. But the workshop is just the punctuation point, because the organizing began months ago. And the real work will happen well into the future.
IT: What community programs are involved with the Building Bridges?
KE: Groundswell, Multicultural Resource Center, Get Your Green Back, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Environmental Program, Ithaca College's Community Change Program and Sustainable Tompkins.
IT: What happens at the human rights workshops for the Ithaca area schools?
KE: We basically engage people in a set of activities that have them understand what human rights are and understand the international framework for human rights - really begin to personalize that information in terms of what the meaning is for it in their own lives. We give them a whole set of tools for doing work with young people. There's a curriculum that we're using that was developed at the University of Minnesota at the human rights center there, which is one the premiere human rights education centers in the country. And so we give people copies of those materials and some copies of materials we've generated out of the DCI, and then give people time to think about how they actually want to use them, what they're next steps are. It's a really a learning community that we're developing.
IT: Do you work primarily with teachers?
KE: I would say that in every given workshop, two-thirds are teachers, but a third are something else.
IT: Do you have a goal for how it will continue and move forward?
KE: Well, it kind of depends on the scope that you have in mind. In terms of the local community, I see it going on until all of the schools in the community have integrated human rights into their curriculum. And depending on how well we do this, it could take three years, it could take five years. But, we also see expanding it throughout New York state. And we're part of a national network who are trying to get it into every school in the country. So, it kind of is a never-ending task.
IT: What are some of the problems you've come into contact with?
KE: I wouldn't say there have been any real problems. The hurdle to overcome is that given the degree to which the educational community, particularly in public schools, is under assault, teachers are really stretched very thin. The demand on them is increasing; the sense of being required to do something else is just never-ending. And so the problem (it's not a problem we have to solve, it's a problem that administrators and teachers have to solve) is how can they approach the idea of integrating human rights education as something that's fundamental to the way that they teach, rather than as a new requirement. And some people understand that right away, because they've been doing it for years. And this is just a breath of fresh air for them because it gives them a platform and a kind of language to support what they've been doing and they don't have to do anything different. And other people are kind of asking the question, ‘OK well we got all these lesson plans, are we required to do them?' And our answer is, ‘Of course not - you're not required to do anything'. At this point, there are enough people who are interested that I think it will build just based on the level of interest. I actually don't think that this is the kind of thing that at this point in our intellectual history can be mandated successfully. So we're not interested in getting to a place where people have it mandated.