Big Apple youth shout out to human rights worldwide


Anjali Sharma

GG News Bureau
Some hundreds of teenagers from New York schools on Wednesday visited the turtle bay to discuss mental health, education, homelessness and systematic racism, as part of the build up to this weekend’s 75th anniversary of Human Rights Day.

The event organized by the UN human rights office and the New York City Mayor’s Office, was a call to action to youth.

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, told over 500 students attending the event that “Positive change is possible when we unite in action. By being here, you’re responding to the call for action.”

She noted that in today’s polarized world, change won’t happen without the creativity and energy of young people.

“The passion, energy and innovation in your thinking are the catalysts,” she noted. “You’re not only the leaders of tomorrow, you’re the leaders of today.”

The students presented research they compiled to highlight the challenges created by a lack of funding for mental health programmes, a lack of diversity in education, systematic racism, and specific challenges faced by homeless youth.

In addition to presentations, students from the non-profit People’s Theatre Project, performed “Take it Seriously” a series of scenes showing how mental health stressors impact high-school students. These include stress from peers, stress due to family members, and stress resulting from the media and pop culture.

During the discussions, one of the students noted a lack of sufficient funding for mental support services in school. Another pointed to the impact of systematic racism against young students. Discussions also touched on rising fees for public schools, and how students can be denied access to drop-in homeless shelters to sleep there overnight.

“Children shouldn’t have to change for the system. The system should change for them,” one student said.

Students heard from activist and Brooklyn native Chelsea Miller who led the students in a call-and-response urging greater action from world leaders.

“Collective punishment,” said Ms. Miller, as some 500 students called out “Shame.”

“State-sanctioned violence   Shame.”

“Silence  Shame.”

“So, to our world leaders, we are saying shame,” Ms. Miller concluded to cheers from the audience.

The event was organized ahead of Human Rights Day, commemorated on 10 December.

The Chair and Commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights, Annabel Palma a life-long resident of the Bronx  said Sunday’s milestone commemoration and today’s event was an opportunity to bring everyone’s voices to the table.

We’re all one city and we’re all in this together if we give the best that we can to each other and to our city,” she added.

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