By Jennifer L. Warren
MIDDLETOWN – The date, December 10, only seemed fitting.
Seventy-one years ago from that day, World Human Rights Day was officially established. It was at this time that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a world-wide agreement of 30 basic rights and fundamental freedoms entitled to all. And so last Tuesday, the Orange County Human Rights Commission recognized four individuals and one program that have selflessly and diligently worked to ensure that all people in Orange County-and beyond-have the opportunity to enjoy the content of the historical document.
“This is a great way to celebrate such a huge moment in history,” affirmed Inaudy Esposito, the Commission’s Executive Director, as she welcomed in guests at last Tuesday’s 24th Annual Orange County Human Rights Ceremony, held at The Fountains of Wallkill in Middletown. Not aimed at being a fundraiser, the Luncheon uses any excess funds towards the development of a high school scholarship to be awarded to a deserving senior who helps to ensure those 30 general rights, the same ones the Human Rights Commission arduously works to enforce. This year, whether it was workshops or training, the Commission continued to host forums and other means aimed at providing inclusion for all, fighting such barriers as; bias, discrimination, racism, ageism and human trafficking, along with other demeaning practices. Those selected with honoree recognition were steadfast to that same mission.
Affecting communities from Newburgh to Port Jervis with their powerful work, this year’s recipients have each played a pivotal role in changing the inclusive framework and dynamic of Orange County. Pastor Rolfi Elivo, an Ordained Pastor of Warwick Reformed Church for the past eight years, works hands-on with immigrants in his community, fighting for their rights while bringing them together and raising their voices in the name of social justice.
“I strongly believe we need to break the isolation between people; there is still a lot of work that can happen if we intentionally take action to know and really get to know one another, which is a human right,” said Elivo. “I receive this award with complete humility; when you decide to voluntarily help people and love and serve them, you don’t expect or even think about a reward.”
Other recipients included; Danielle Barbour, who has dedicated herself to human rights work since high school, creating a program called ERASE, aimed at ending racism and sexism. She further helped develop the Pride Center in Warwick as well as the Safe Space Initiative. Fran Fox-Pizzonia, a lifelong advocate for justice is passionate about her reproductive justice and civil rights work. Rap artist and performance poet, Decora Sandiford, who gives his time to bring people from all backgrounds and situations together, performed an impromptu, moving number for those in attendance. Speaking passionately about the integral need to look at our similarities rather than differences, and work in unison, he addressed the audience, “Human rights are a basic right,” said an emotional Sandiford. “We need to give empathy to others.”
Finally, the program Vet2Vet, supporting veterans and their unique journeys as well as transitions back to their communities, was recognized for its commitment to peer-to-peer mentoring, support groups, creative programming and much more. Led by Program Coordinator, Larry Neumann, the priceless, one-of-a-kind program in Orange County is facilitated by veterans; Millie Rivera-Velez, Bryon Abrams and Everett Cox.
The successful event that united a cross-section of people from various agencies, once again reminded all present how critical the powerfully felt work of the Human Rights Commission, as well as all those who support its message of protecting the basic rights of all, truly is, especially in today’s day and age.
“If you are here today, you know it is possible for there to be change and that the world, Orange County, needs us,” said Esposito. “Together, we are stronger, especially through our differences, to make our beautiful country safe for everyone.” Reflecting further, Esposito, added, “Because if we aren’t doing this work, what are we doing?”