By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – They include a long list of basic entitlements all of us are deserving of, including; The right to life and liberty, the right to organize, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to work and education.
2023 officially marks the 75th anniversary of one of the world’s most empowering global pledges: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The groundbreaking document encapsulates the 30 rights all human beings, representing 17 classes, are entitled to, and no one can be denied. Despite the critical importance of each of these rights, many people remain unaware of them as well as the protections in place to ensure their applicability in our everyday lives.
To that end, Human Rights Commissions have surfaced, and with several county chapters already existing in the Hudson Valley, the City of Newburgh recently formed its own, one committed to spreading awareness on the specifics of the organization, its overriding mission as well as its tangible application to those facets of the community most in need of its service. In that spirit, the Chapter, led by Chairperson, Ramona Burton, held its first formal event Saturday at the Newburgh Free Public Library’s Auditorium. Here an eclectic mix of passionate leaders- heroes from the City turned out to delve full force into how basic rights, such as fair housing, equal access to education, food security, and other basic rights can be ensured for all.
“Public service to others is the rent we pay; we need to serve others in order to do the deed,” City of Newburgh Mayor, Torrance Harvey initiated his remarks. “Human rights are cornerstones of our society, fostering peace and progress, and with the protection of them, we help create a world where every person can thrive.”
They are spaces that should never discriminate against any protected group, whether by age, creed, disability, sex, race/color or a long list of other delineations. Part of that safeguard guidance the Newburgh Chapter has put in place is having Ms. Tallie Carter, Assistant Council for the City of Newburgh, as one of its team members. On hand Saturday, Tallie Carter was filled with excitement about the pending positive possibilities the critical organization’s impact can have. She was further filled with gratitude to be surrounded by so many community leaders determined to fine tune the immediate purpose and goals to be implemented.
“Everyone here: We appreciate you, and we want to know about how we can help you,” said Tallie Carter, who pointed out the present seven member- all volunteer “servant” Newburgh Commission status, which seeks to increase that representation. “If we want to see change, it’s going to take organization.”
That focus quickly surfaced as James Childs, a consultant and facilitator in diversity, equity and inclusion as well as someone who has worked on the Kingston Chapter of Human Rights Commission, came to the front of the room, leading several pro-active, on-hands activities with participants. After the first sharing exercise, involving a partner sharing of key human rights to address in the community was done, a litany of brainstormed words such as: “confirming,” “inspirational,” “inclusive,” “collaborative,” and “thought-provoking,” was projected on the front screen. From there, primary topics of concern were deduced: “economics,” “housing,” “education,” “advocacy,” and “youth development,” soon emerged onto that same screen.
“We need to put this into action,” Childs stressed, as he diligently recorded his own notes.
Small focus groups- addressing a few of those pivotal areas of concern- formed, as participants actively engaged upon fine-tuning exactly how the Newburgh Human Rights chapter could best serve each of them. Progress was happening- and with it -hope and excitement.
Newburgh educator and Newburgh-Highland Falls Chapter Vice President, Kyle Conway, reported the findings of the sharing of the education group.
“People want leadership,” started Conway. “Things like a quarterly newsletter reporting what the Commission does can create a bridge of information really helping to inform people.”
Meanwhile, the food insecurity contingent shared their results, including a need to regulate some unhealthy practices in food pantries, another priority for more accessibility to access healthy food as well as providing more local markets to offer that food and its employees to display integral dignity to all people who frequent them.
Housing folks divulged their need to focus on holding landowners accountable for a variety of questionable actions as well as a look into the huge decline in African-American home ownership over the years.
NECSD Board member, Phil Howard, spoke on behalf of those sharing at the advocacy table.
“It’s really all about empowering the people, letting them know what their human rights are, while being proactive and not reactive,” said Howard, who stressed the dire need to fully grasp systematic issues that go on everywhere. “When you know your value, people are less likely to take it away from you.”
The City of Newburgh Human Rights Commission meets the first Thursday of each Month at 7pm at the Heritage Center, located on 123 Grand Street, Newburgh and is open to all in the public to attend. The next gathering will be on Thursday, August 3. Presently, several Board Member seats are available. To learn more, send an e-mail to: HRC@CITYOFNEWBURGH-NY.GOV.