By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – For 73 years the date December 10 has had a profound international meaning in Human Right’s circles.
Friday, its significance was celebrated locally in the City of Newburgh, when eight individuals were recognized by members of their community (crowd sourced nominations) for their indelible footprints in service to their community, aimed at protecting these priceless rights. Hosted by the City of Newburgh Human Rights’ Commission, this year’s hour long event was held virtually due to the ongoing Pandemic. Intentionally selecting the December 10 date, the day the United Nations General Assembly officially adopted the proclamation for International Human Rights’ Day, the Newburgh Commission wanted to do something special this year signifying the huge relevance of this day’s meaning for so many.
“We wanted to take the time to thank folks for their contributions,” pointed out the event’s host and one of the Committee’s Ambassadors, Genesis Ramos. “We are so thankful for everyone being honored tonight, as we could not be where we are in Newburgh without you; thank you.”
Recognizing Newburgh heroes in housing, healthcare, environmentalism and healthcare, the Newburgh Human Rights’ Commission will be mailing official Proclamation Certificates to each person as well as a gift certificate good to use at a Newburgh restaurant of his-her choosing. Additionally, each hero was given time to speak, urged to provide specific “calls to action” after being introduced.
In the area of housing, Rene Mejia and Juanita Lewis were honored. Mejia, born and raised in the City of Newburgh, spoke of his love for his City, including its “one-of-a-kind experiences.” He also revealed his continued desire to push for fair housing for all.
“No one should have to go into the New Year being homeless,” affirmed Mejia.
Lewis, a member of the grassroots Community Voices Heard, was humbled by the recognition.
“Organizing is a labor of love,” Lewis, who is involved with multiple City of Newburgh community groups, said. “It’s not a job but a calling.”
For healthcare, Aura Lopez-Zarate and Debra Danzy were bestowed hero laurels.
Danzy, heavily involved in her City of Newburgh community, is a Community Health Promoter for Planned Parenthood. Also a member of Community Voices Heard, she is a pivotal part of We are Newburgh among many other groups aimed at making her City a better place for all who inhabit it.
“I’m really happy and overwhelmed by this honor,” said a visibly moved Danzy. “My work is a way of giving back, as I was once in a dark place, and others helped me.” She added, “Newburgh will get better.”
Mark Sanchez Potter and Jennifer Rawlison were selected for their environmentalism contributions. Sanchez-Potter, a teacher and City of Newburgh resident, spoke about how becoming involved with the Danskammer Power Plant issue changed his life…for the better.
“Stopping fossil fuel infrastructure is essential to everyone’s well-being,” said Sanchez Potter. “We need to begin the transition to renewable energy.”
Rawlison, deeply immersed in the Newburgh Clean Water Committee and its integral issues, also expressed her passion for what is at its core.
“Clean water, air and land are rights for all people,” said Rawlison. “Owning being a part of your community comes with doing service.”
Finally, in the area of education, Gabrielle Hill and Jacqueline Hesse were recognized.
Hill, a member of a large number of Newburgh committees geared toward human rights, including the Frederick Douglass Project, was deeply touched by the hero title. Discussing a need for children to see people that look like them talked about in schools, she also alluded to how much we can learn if we simply listen to them.
“We need to let our children teach us,” said an emotional Hill, who spoke of the importance of people getting involved in their communities, contributing the gifts they all possess. “I have learned so much from the youth I have worked with, and we can all do the same.”
Another Ambassador, Laura Garcia, representing the City of Newburgh Human Rights’ Commission, added about the night’s significance, “It’s exciting to honor these individuals who do this kind of work cause it means so much to them,” said Garcia. “We are so grateful and thankful for each one of them.”