At The Advocates for Human Rights, we envision a world where every person lives with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace. We rely on volunteers to move us closer to this ideal. Volunteers are an essential part of our mission. They create a bigger impact beyond the capacity of our limited staff resources. For example, we leveraged a cash budget of $1.8 million dollars into programs and services worth more than $11 million dollars in our last fiscal year. Furthermore, by involving individuals from all walks of life in the work of human rights, we jointly build a stronger human rights movement.
We are encouraged by our volunteers who work in the trenches to protect and promote human rights. There are many ways to engage with The Advocates for Human Rights. As we move into 2020, we want to share 20 ways you can work with The Advocates to move all of us closer to a world where the inherent dignity of every person is recognized and respected.
We celebrate small victories as well as the bigger successes that combine to change the world for good. Every bit helps, and small steps are essential to building the larger movement. Thank you for all that you have done to make The Advocates such a strong organization.
We look forward to working with you in 2020 to build the human rights movement by involving individuals in other sectors in the work of human rights.
The scene that unfolded on the evening of June 20, 2019 had been in preparation for months. Excitement filled the air as staffers and volunteers, each assigned a list of duties to fulfill, quickly moved past each other in The Depot – a Minneapolis historic venue chosen as the site for the 2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner and, from what I learnt that evening, a former train station serving as a stopping point for the Orphan Trains.
Our keynote speaker, guest of honor, and recipient of the 2019 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award, Andrés Cediel, gave an engaging speech. His qualifications as professor of visual journalism at the University of California Berkeley, investigative journalist, and accomplished documentarian had the guests attentively following along as he took us down his trail of professional experiences. He opened his speech with a statement acknowledging the lands on which we were, paying respect to the Anishinaabe people as traditional stewards of the land and recognizing the relationship that continues to exist between them and their traditional territories. He reminded attendees of the history of Indigenous people in Minnesota, some of whom had been held in detention camps at Fort Snelling, an area not far from where we sat.
Cediel then segued into a discussion about the Orphan Trains in the late 1800s. Orphan trains? I asked myself while trying to catch his explanation of their presence in Minneapolis. I searched the room of the almost 700 dinner guests – mainly legal professionals, advocates, and donors from varying professions – to find that most shared the same look of curiosity. It turned to horror when we learned about the system in which an estimated 150,000-250,000 allegedly orphaned and abandoned children from the East Coast were relocated to new homes in Minnesota and across the American Plains. Sadly, the Milwaukee Road Depot building had also once been a station where children were displayed and given away. Essentially, they were placed on auction blocks and sold to the highest bidder – some of whom, having ill motives, bought them as cheap farm laborers, partaking in what we’d now recognize as labor trafficking. Despicable, I thought. Yet I appreciated the progress made from that dark part of America’s history to now where such trains couldn’t be fathomed.
Human Rights Violations at Home
Cediel pointed out that human rights violations take place everywhere, including here at home. This is illustrated in his documentary films “Rape on the Night Shift,” “Trafficked in America,” and “Rape in the Fields,” which were featured in the PBS Frontline Series and which he created with his collaborator Daffodil Altan. [As an aside, earlier in the week the first two films had been the focus of two very well attended Continuing Legal Education events facilitated by The Advocates.] Cediel’s film, “Rape on the Night Shift,” documents the story of custodial workers sexually assaulted by their supervisor. Cediel told us of the heavy emotions he experienced from listening to the women’s stories and of secondhand trauma – a parting gift I suppose would be inevitable in his line of work. I felt similar emotions watching the films and again listening to his speech.
Award Recipients of the Evening
But the night was also about other awards – the Volunteer Awards recognize the importance of volunteers to The Advocates’ work and certain outstanding volunteers in particular. Staff members of The Advocates took their turn on stage to distribute awards to volunteers who had made great contributions to the Advocates. Among the list of recipients were Dr. Charlayne Myers and Steve Woldum, Charles Weed, Judi Corradi, Zonta Club of Minneapolis, Alena Levina, and the Somali 92 Team. The Somali 92 team is a collection of lawyers, paralegals, and other staff who represented deportees on a December 2017 Customs and Immigration Enforcement chartered flight that had gone horribly wrong.
Following this was the announcement that Minneapolis-based Women at the Court House (WATCH), an organization that works to make the justice system more effective and responsive for victimized women and children in domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking cases, would become part of The Advocates’ Women’s Rights program. I smiled to hear the news, which I think is a positive step for the human rights work here in Minnesota and beyond.
Funding for The Advocates
The evening would not have been complete without professional auctioneer and award recipient, Pat Brenna, who, with great ease and skill, drew enthusiasm and laughter from guests as she tugged at their purse strings to fund the work of The Advocates. It was a great success! Many guests happily waved their donation envelopes in the air at Pat’s call for takers to fund projects ranging in value from $100 to $10,000. Pat, never shy, informed guests of The Advocates’ goal to raise $270,000 from the event to help fund The Advocates’ various human rights projects. And, from the looks of the unofficial numbers, that announcement paid off – and yes, that pun was intended.
Earlier in the evening there had been a silent auction. Many items were auctioned off – imported wines rich in vibrant flavor and aromatic notes guaranteeing to leave the consumer more than satisfied, trips abroad including accommodations for a stay in a beautiful home in Italy, and fine hand-made jewelry and clothing among many other tempting indulgences for the guests. All in all, The Advocates raised close to $300,000 from this year’s event – a record-setting amount in the 15+ year history since this event has been held.
Just as I, staffers, and volunteers made a concerted effort in setting up for the event, we also pitched in during the take-down process. I watched as guests, gleaming with smiles and uttering thank-yous to members of The Advocates, filed out of The Depot. Despite my tired eyes caused by the toll of the day’s activities, I reflected on the sentiment that Andrés Cediel departed onto us during his keynote address. He stated, as Martin Luther King Jr. had popularized, that
“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
While Cediel believes this to be true – that good ultimately prevails despite the evil and tragedy around us – he added that it requires a proactive effort made every day by people who care about human rights and dignity. And this is exactly what The Advocates do. During my time with The Advocates, I have had the pleasure of joining this effort at the international level, where The Advocates fight for justice and to bring to surface human rights violations happening around the world.
Though The Advocates has had many victories, Cediel reminds us that the fight for good is an ongoing process. And with the continued support from staff members, volunteers, interns, and community donors, I believe that The Advocates will be able to remain in this fight to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice.
The 2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner took place on Thursday, June 20 in order that we might celebrate the work of our organization and the contributions of the volunteers who make this work possible.
We all have a role in achieving respect for human rights around the world. For all of our work we rely on the expertise and commitment of volunteers. They represent asylum seekers and ensure laws and policies reflect human rights principles. They research and write reports and provide interpretation and translation services. They testify and submit statements to the United Nations and other international bodies. They facilitate trainings and serve as court observers. They welcome visitors and clients and assist with office work.
Volunteers are integral to our success. They expand our impact and build the global human rights movement. Thank you for helping us thank them. Please see below for more information on this years’ amazing volunteers!
Pat Brenna’s creativity in using her skills to support human rights is an inspiration. Pat is a business development consultant as well as a benefit fundraising auctioneer. For the last 11 years, Pat has designed and led the fundraising efforts at the Human Rights Awards Dinner, helping The Advocates raise essential funds to support our work. As human rights activist and actor Mike Farrell remarked about her work at the 2012 Awards Dinner, Pat is relentless. Before Pat brought her expertise to The Advocates, our awards dinners brought together hundreds of people for a fun evening with amazing award winners. There was no opportunity at the event itself for the assembled friends to financially support The Advocates’ work. Pat helped The Advocates see the fundraising opportunity and over the years the Fund-the-Need presentation has become a favorite part of the evening. Pat is currently business development director at Brainier Solutions, a developer of learning management systems for businesses and nonprofits.
Whenever anyone seeks out information about The Advocates for Human Rights, they see Charles Weed’s tremendous contribution to our work. Charles is our website guru. He designed The Advocates’ first website in the 1990s and has maintained it pro bono for over 20 years. Charles lends his expertise to The Advocates on nights and weekends, through weekly maintenance, regular updates, and a couple of complete overhauls (including one in progress now). Charles is a software designer for Urban Planet Software in St. Paul. The Advocates is grateful to Urban Planet as well; they help keep our website up to date by sharing newly developed modules and tools when they become available through their work. Charles, for his part, approaches his work for The Advocates with patience and grace. Over these many years, he has helped us balance what we think we need with what we really do need, and has worked tirelessly with staff and interns to keep the site working reliably.
Judy Corradi has been a volunteer with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program for many years. She first started volunteering in the office and helping with a variety of research projects. In 2018 Judy traveled to Geneva, Switzerland as a member of our UN advocacy team. She jumped in right away and helped make contacts with delegates to the Human Rights Council and then organized meetings with them. Judy joined The Advocates at the UN again in 2019. She helped to prepare and present statements to the UN Human Rights Council about the death penalty and the status of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She also testified at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women about challenges
facing women in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Judy’s remarkable research, writing, and presentations positively impact human rights around the world. We are very grateful that she shares her skills with us. Judy is a retired financial industry professional, having spent 38 years in the commercial insurance sector. She is also involved with a number of other local organizations, including Women’s March Minnesota, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Minnesota DFL. In her free time, she serves as an ESL tutor with Language Central.
Alena Levina has served as a volunteer with The Advocates for several years, translating and interpreting between Russian and English. Originally from Belarus, Alena has used her native Russian language skills to facilitate the extensive work of The Advocates in countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. The Women’s Program provides analysis and commentary on laws addressing violence against women. Alena has translated those laws from Russian into English, and then translated back into Russian the advice and documentation from The Advocates. Alena’s awareness of the subtleties and nuances of the Russian language helps ensure the effectiveness of The Advocates’ work. Alena’s work isn’t limited to translation. She also served as an interpreter when our International Justice Program hosted a Russian-speaking group of LGBTI activists. Alena ensured that the group felt welcome during its visit to Minnesota. The Advocates is deeply grateful for Alena’s unique contributions to human rights work. Alena, in turn, is “honored” by this work. “It takes my breath away. The more I work with The Advocates, the more I realize that when we all come together, that’s when change happens. That’s why I do this.”
Dr. Charlayne Meyers and Steve Woldum
Long-time friends and neighbors Char Myers and Steve Woldum volunteer together on Mondays in The Advocates’ development office. They hand-address event invitations, write notes, and make calls to thank donors. They also file the many papers that flow through the office, and generally do whatever is needed. And they do it all with so much positive energy that we often receive thank you calls for their thank you calls. One donor was so appreciative of receiving a call that wasn’t a request for money that he made an additional donation! The behind the-scenes support they provide to the organization is invaluable. Char is a long-time educator with the Minneapolis Public Schools and Hamline University.
She enjoys the conversations she has with donors; she gets to hear their appreciation for the work of The Advocates, an appreciation she shares. Char loves alphabetizing and baking pies, including and donates a “perfect pie crust lesson” to The Advocates’ silent auction. She and her husband, former Board chair Sam Myers, have dedicated their time and energy to The Advocates for Human Rights over many years. Steve comes by his telephone skills from experience; he worked in sales for many years. He is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and ending human trafficking, and is proud of the work of The Advocates. When he’s not volunteering, Steve is outdoors, likely sailing or canoeing in and around the lakes of his hometown of Minneapolis.
Zonta Club of Minneapolis
Zonta envisions a world in which every woman is able to achieve her full potential. In such a world, every woman has access to education, health care, and legal and economic resources. In such a world, no woman lives in fear of violence. With more than 29,000 members in 63 countries, Zonta International advances the status of women around the world. Members volunteer their time and talents to participate in service projects, advocate for women’s access to civil and economic opportunities, and raise funds to support scholarships and other programs.
In 2016, the Zonta Club of Minneapolis selected The Advocates as its beneficiary for the following two years. Members learned about the challenges women refugees in Minnesota face. The Zontians selected and purchased large bags and filled them with much-needed winter accessories, towels, and other supplies. They also included information about Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and available resources. The assembled bags were then distributed to refugee and immigrant women receiving legal services from The Advocates. The Advocates is grateful to the Zonta Club for its partnership and support.
Somali 92 Team
On December 7, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempted to deport 92 men and women to Somalia. The plane departed Louisiana for Somalia, but was grounded in Senegal, where it remained on the runway for 23 hours before returning to Miami. For almost two days, the men and women sat bound and shackled in an ICE-chartered airplane. People aboard the flight reported truly horrifying conditions. Even more alarming, ICE planned to deport them before any investigation into the mistreatment could be made.
The Advocates joined colleagues at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Binger Center for New Americans, the University of Miami School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, Legal Services of Broward County, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and the ACLU in seeking an injunction. When a federal judge in Miami ordered ICE to stop the deportations, provide medical care, and provide an opportunity to reopen the underlying deportation cases, the need for large-scale pro bono mobilization was clear. Working with colleagues at Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, The Advocates recruited pro bono attorneys from around the United States to file motions to reopen. Pro bono attorneys fought throughout 2018, and continue to fight, to reopen cases and win protection from deportation forthe people who had been aboard the flight. The Advocates recognizes and is grateful for these extraordinary volunteers.
“I was ready for the new women’s movement when it emerged and turned my talents and experience to it. Defying expectations, taking risks, and seeking what I could do beyond near horizons became my sport…It’s thrilling to imagine the possibilities that await my grandchildren—and you readers. This is my story. I wrote it to encourage other women to live fully and write theirs.” – Arvonne Fraser (from her memoir entitled “She’s No Lady”)
The human rights world has lost a giant. Arvonne Fraser inspired women’s human rights activists across the globe. She encouraged multiple generations of women to find their voices to make their lives better and improve the world. She helped develop international standards for the protection of women and was a tireless advocate herself. In addition to work on international human rights, Arvonne leaves a long legacy in many different arenas, including government, academia, and nonprofit.
She and her husband, Don, influenced our work at The Advocates for Human Rights from the very beginning. In their honor, the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award is presented annually to an outstanding individual or organization promoting human rights. Arvonne’s legacy will live on through the many human rights activists she influenced, both in Minnesota and around the world. This year’s awardee, Jane Connors, spoke of the immense importance of her work in realizing the implementation of the human rights of women through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
“It is hard to overstate Arvonne’s impact. I have met people from the far corners of the world who when they learned I was from Minnesota, told me wonderful stories about how Arvonne has influenced them in their work,” states Robin Phillips, Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.
The Advocates for Human Rights will present nine awards to human rights leaders at the Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017 at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis. The Human Rights Awards Dinner is an annual event that honors those who dedicate time, energy, and passion to advance The Advocates’ mission of changing the world for good by implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.
Mark Hetfield will deliver the keynote address and receive the 2017 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. Minnesota House of Representatives Member Ilhan Omar will be honored with a Special Recognition Award; The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Rapid Response Team will also receive the Special Recognition Award. Genoveva Tisheva will receive the first-ever Human Rights Defender Award. In addition, Karam Law, Sarah Vander Zanden, Gerry Tyrrell, David Seng Chor, and Yorn Yan will each receive the Volunteer Awards.
Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award – Mark Hetfield
Mark Hetfieldis a globally recognized leader in refugee rights. He is the president and CEO of HIAS. Founded in 1881, HIAS is the world’s oldest organization dedicated to refugees. Under Hetfield’s guidance and leadership, HIAS has expanded from an organization focused on Jewish immigrants to one that assists refugees worldwide, no matter whom or where they are. HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom. HIAS both protects and resettles refugees, all the while ensuring they are treated with the dignity they deserve. Guided by Jewish ethics and history, HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are. Hetfield has stated, “HIAS doesn’t help people because they are Jewish but because we are Jewish.”
Hetfield’s 27-year career has been largely spent in five different roles within HIAS. Between his roles at HIAS, he served as senior advisor on refugee issues at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he directed a congressionally-authorized study on asylum seekers in expedited removal. This study, published in 2005, is the most comprehensive study on expedited removal to date and is still widely used today. Hetfield and his team were recognized for their work with the Arthur C. Helton Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, presented by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He graduated cum laude with a juris doctor degree from Georgetown University, from which he also holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.
Born in Somalia, Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in 1995. Omar spoke no English at first, but learned quickly. She was inspired to enter public service after translating for her grandfather at a community political meeting at the age of 14. After graduating from North Dakota State University, Omar has worked tirelessly for her community and the greater public good. In addition to representing District 60B, Omar is the Director of Policy Initiatives for Women Organizing Women, a nonprofit network dedicated to empowering all women, with an emphasis on first– and second-generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.
Special Recognition Award – MSP Airport Rapid Response Team
When President Donald Trump signed his executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, thousands of attorneys around the United States turned out to protect those being denied entry. Here in Minnesota, attorney Regina Jefferies signed up to help with the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday afternoon and by Sunday morning had messages from more than 150 lawyers willing to go to the airport. Among them were immigration attorney Kara Lynum and Robins Kaplan’s Summra Sharriff, and attorneys Melissa Staudinger, Alisha Tecli, Hayley Steptoe, Shannon Doty, Nichole Buehler, Tara Murphy, and Kevin Riach, who would become the spontaneous project’s team leads.
The team organized everything from attorneys providing direct assistance on the ground at MSP, a habeas team ready to file for anyone detained under the ban, to volunteer training and communications, and liaison with the Metropolitan Airport Commission. Within two weeks, the project grew to more than 300 attorneys and countless community members volunteering to do everything from language interpretation to bringing food to volunteers. Volunteers met every international flight to Minnesota for 6 weeks. Their work not only provided onsite help to anxious family members waiting for their loved ones to arrive. It sent an important message to federal officials that the people of this country will not sit idly by in the face of discrimination and intolerance. Their work embodies The Advocates’ mission to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.
Human Rights Defender Award – Genoveva Tisheva
Genoveva Tisheva will be presented with The Advocates’ inaugural Human Rights Defender Award. Tisheva is the executive director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF), a nongovernmental organization that promotes social equality and women’s human rights in Bulgaria through research, education, and advocacy programs.
Tisheva has been a leader in the international human rights movement for over twenty years. A pioneer in Bulgarian gender rights research, she has conducted research on privatization, women’s socio-economic rights, violence against women, the impact of privatization of goods and services on women, and trafficking of Romani women and children. Tisheva has been instrumental in pushing Bulgaria to the forefront as a leader for the region on law reform related to violence against women.
The relationship between The Advocates and Tisheva extends back to 1994. At the time, Tisheva was the president of the Bulgarian Women Lawyers Association and had begun the work to secure legal reform that would protect women victims of violence and hold perpetrators accountable. The Advocates had just recently published its first report on women’s human rights titled “Lifting the Last Curtain, a Report on Domestic Violence in Romania.” Tisheva approached The Advocates about conducting fact-finding and documenting domestic violence as a human rights violation in Bulgaria. The resulting report, “Domestic Violence in Bulgaria” published in 1996, served as a blueprint for action.
For her work on behalf of women and for social rights, Tisheva was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize as part of the Project “1000 Women for Nobel Peace Prize.” Tisheva holds a M.A. in Law from Bulgaria’s Sofia University and is a specialist in international human rights law and international comparative law.
Information and tickets to the Human Rights Awards Dinner are available here.