STF Events: 2019-2020
What A Year!
As the 2019-2020 academic year comes to a close, we wanted to share a review of STF accomplishments. Students faced so many challenges this year (fires, school shooting, Covid-19, violence during peaceful protests) but remained committed to human rights activism.
We wish we could celebrate in person with our graduating seniors, but hope this photo journey will serve as an inspiring reminder and congratulations for the more than 50 events you undertook this year.
Stay safe and healthy and ready for action for human rights!
STF Team: Pam, Kristin, Nancy, Marianna, Eden, Carina, Brennie and Crystal
Join Us for HRW LA Film Club’s First Virtual Screening!
The HRW Los Angeles Film Club Committee invites you to our first ever virtual screening of Slay the Dragon, a critically-acclaimed movie about ordinary people taking action to protect democracy — and winning. What better way to enter a challenging election season?
RSVP now to watch the movie at your convenience between May 15-17, and then join us for a panel discussion on Sunday, May 17 at 6pm.
We are making this online screening free to ensure that as many people as possible can see it. RSVP to register for the event!
Tamar Chafets: “Put Yourself in Their Shoes…”
April 28, 2020: As part of their ongoing effort to support homeless youth in their community, Da Vinci Schools STF leaders hosted a virtual conversation with homeless youth advocate Tamar Chafets. They were joined by students and staff from Carson, Culver City, Da Vinci, Hamilton, New Roads, and Palisades Charter high schools.
Tamar discussed several factors that can lead to youth and families falling into homelessness, including abuse, job loss, divorce or death of a guardian, medical emergency, incarceration and eviction. She also highlighted how a lack of social programs and affordable housing perpetuates the cycle of homelessness, particularly in Los Angeles.
During the Q&A, Tamar answered questions ranging from actions students can take to support homeless youth, to the best ways to break down stigmas around those experiencing homelessness.
“The more you can talk to a person and have them feel heard, acknowledged, the more you will build your empathy. But you also want to be respectful of their privacy. Homeless youth are often ashamed and embarrassed. In order to have empathy, you’re going to need to put yourself into their shoes… We can’t empathize by thinking about homelessness, we need to hear stories and realize it’s horrible, nothing like we could ever imagine…” Tamar said when asked how STFers should start conversations about homelessness on campus.
Watch the discussion to learn more (42:24)!
Submitted by Geo Espinoza, Da Vinci Schools STF Co-President
On the Ground in Conflict Zones
April 18, 2020: STF students, teachers and guests watched the documentary E-TEAM to learn what it’s like to investigate human rights abuses in conflict zones. They were captivated during a post-screening discussion with one of the film’s central figures, HRW’s Fred Abrahams, Associate Director for Program.
Fred spoke with over 80 STFers and friends about life as a human rights advocate on the front lines, including Syria, Libya and Kosovo. He explained that, “Our work is to investigate human rights abuses, document those abuses, expose those abuses and advocate for these abuses to end… When you investigate human rights violations, it is very important to have an open mind. You have to be sympathetic on one hand and need to treat those you talk to with compassion, but you have to be careful not to believe everything people say. Your job is to separate fact from fiction.”
Fred cautioned about the dangers HRW researchers face going into the field and the importance of self-care. He gave personal examples for how to get started as a professional human rights advocate. The questions and answers left everyone wanting more time with Fred!
Learn more by watching the discussion (57:11)
One Family’s Genocide Survival Story
April 10, 2020: To contribute to April’s Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, Human Rights Watch Student Task Force hosted its first-ever virtual discussion with special guests Rita Lurie, a Holocaust survivor, and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, human rights advocate. The mother-daughter duo spoke with STFers and supporters and helped them better understand the horrors of genocide and the trauma that can last a lifetime.
Rita described what it was like for her family to spend two years hiding in a tiny attic in Poland during the Holocaust (she was a young girl) and she read a passage from their memoir she wrote with Leslie, Bending Toward the Sun. They both answered questions from the virtual audience ranging from: “What are your family’s values after surviving such tragic times?” to “How do you cope with the intergenerational trauma as a result of Rita’s experience in the Holocaust?” Rita and Leslie also suggested how to advocate for human rights and how to stand up against rising anti-Semitism.
Speaking on feelings of identity and not belonging, Leslie said that it’s important to be patient: “If you feel like you are part of an adverse group, try to have one person at a time really understand you. Anything you struggle with today is going to make you a better person and a better leader.”
Additionally Leslie emphasized the importance of being an upstander who acts with courage and advocates for what they believe in. “Upstanders save thousands and thousands of lives.”
Participants were moved by their presentation and encourage everyone to watch the recording of Rita and Leslie with STF (58:06).
Canyon Cares About Climate Change
March 10 2020: Canyon High School STF held an educational exhibit about the devastating effects of climate change on human rights. AP environmental science and social studies classes rotated through the exhibit, which featured four tents:
- Increased flooding in coastal areas
- Extended droughts and resulting fires
- Effects on agriculture
- The water crisis in Johannesburg
The tents each displayed headlines from recent events that show climate change’s impact, such as the disappearance of the Solomon Islands or the recent Australia fires. They also included heart-wrenching pictures from these affected areas.The exhibit concluded with an action station in which students were invited to make personal pledges or petition for legislation to slow the effects of climate change.
Submitted by Nina Pedro, Canyon STF President
Pali STF Educates to Protect Human Rights
Photos by Pam Bruns and Patricia Williams
Check out the school’s coverage of the event!
March 6, 2020: A week before the coronavirus shut down our schools, Palisades Charter High School hosted its second annual Human Rights Watch STF exhibit, featuring 6 stations with information on 6 crucial topics:
- Gun Violence
- Climate Change
- Homeless Youth
- Separation of Families at the Border
- Timeline for Modern Human Rights Movement
- Youth Activists
Each of the stations or tents was host to one of the above topics and STF leaders presented information on each subject, discussed how it violates human rights, and presented action items to get students involved. Action items included: 1. a plea for solar panels at the school; 2. petitions to U.S. Senators to ratify the CRC; 3. petitions to U.S. Senate and local U.S. Congress members to encourage the passage of gun violence prevention legislation; 4. handed out business-sized cards with information for Pali resources for attaining food/shelter/other services; 5. and the opportunity to take a photo with a life-size Greta to post online in support of fighting climate change!
With over 400 students passing through the exhibit, Pali’s STF hopes to have broadened the views of all attendees on these crucial human rights issues and encouraged them to get involved.
Submitted by Hallie McRae, Palisades Charter HS STF Co-President
Check out this slideshow to see how this event was set up:
Pali Students Stand for Human Rights
March 06, 2020: Pali’s Human Rights Watch Student Task Force presented a Human Rights Expo on Friday, March 6 in Gilbert Auditorium. One powerful tent in the exhibit, “Youth Justice Warriors,” inspired students with powerful quotes and images of young advocates fighting climate change, gun violence, and separation of families. A dynamic, student-made video showed highlights of advocates Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Greta Thunberg, Licipriya Kanjujam, and Sophie Cruz speaking in front of 100,000’s of people. This Youth Warriors tent experience concluded with many students promising that they would “Stand with Greta” by posing next to a life-sized photo of her and pledging they would support her fight for climate justice. Students walked out of the tent with youth leaders’ words ringing in the air and with options for activism to bring change in their community.
Submitted by Izzy Gill, Pali STF Co-President
STFers in Action
February 28, 2020: February 20-28, 2020: STF chapters at Academy of the Canyons, Santa Monica, Sierra Canyon and Valencia HS hosted events featuring guest speakers, tables and tents to engage their campus communities in children’s rights advocacy.
Golden Valley STF Gets City Support
February 7, 2020, The Signal: The city of Santa Clarita donated 25 recycling bins to a student organization at Golden Valley High School on Thursday, February 6, 2020.
The student-run organization Human Rights Watch Student Task Force started a recycling initiative at the beginning of the school year to help keep the campus of Golden Valley High School clean, while also spreading awareness of the benefits recycling has on the environment.
“We decided to pick recycling because as students we looked around the campus and realized how much trash and how unclean it was,” said Ana Talavera-Castanoli, co-president of the organization. “We thought it could be applied to not only other schools and our world, but also in our school.”
The organization began at Golden Valley eight years ago and has been strictly student-run, said Shelley Coe, teacher and adviser at the school. She added that each year the students select a (human rights) topic to focus on throughout the school year.
In an effort to aid the organization with the initiative, 25 recycling bins were donated by the city.
“It’s never a surprise when we hear our local students wanting to take a leadership role,” said Mayor Cameron Smyth. “We’re always meeting and hearing from students about ways to make this community better.”
The students hope others will be more inclined to recycle since there will be multiple bins across the campus.
Before the end of the school year, the organization hopes to host an event to further educate other students and the community about the benefits of recycling and the effects climate change has had on the environment.
Never Stay Silent!
February 11, 2020: The STF Winter Workshop featured Holocaust survivor Bill Harvey who generously shared his story of surviving the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald Concentration Camps. Amy Marczewski Carnes of the USC Shoah Foundation introduced Bill by emphasizing the importance of “story” as a means of human connection and education for advocacy work. Bill, who is nearly 96-years-old, told STFers that he defines success in life by the impact and the good that is shared with people. Importantly, he expressed how critical it is to speak up against discrimination in every form, “Never stay silent!”
In a note to STF Executive Director Pam Bruns, Bill wrote, “I was very gratified to spend the evening with such wonderful teenagers. They were all extremely bright students and their involvement (in human rights) will surely make this world a better place to live in. And if I left even the smallest impact on their lives, then my day was made.” Bill spends every Saturday at the Museum of Tolerance where visitors to the museum from all over come to hear him speak.
STFers also had the opportunity to see and hear from student activist Ryan Beam via a video conference call. Ryan, who lives in Northern California, has advocated for a California state constitutional amendment (ACA 4) which would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by election day. Ryan was inspired by his time interning with State Assemblymember Mark Stone. Ryan brought attention to voter disenfranchisement by having two op-eds published in the Sacramento Bee and the LA Times and was invited to testify before the state legislature in favor of ACA 4.
Culver City Did It!
January 27, 2020: Culver City High School STF went to Culver City City Hall to advocate for the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The STF members argued that the Council members should endorse the CRC at a local level to ensure children’s rights within the city, provide a framework for future city policies dealing with children, and serve as a model for ratification of the passage on a broader scale.
Vice-mayor Göran Eriksson expressed his dismay at the federal government’s unique inaction on international human right treaties and offered to help the STFers get in contact with their senators. Councilmember Alex Fisch told the attendees to hold the city accountable for acting in line with its provisions and that he “[looked] forward to voting yes”. Councilmember Daniel Lee commended the students’ activism in the area and thanked them for educating the Council about the CRC.
After those remarks, it was time to vote. Perhaps unsurprisingly, yet still excitingly, the measure to adopt the CRC in Culver City passed unanimously! The HRW STF members’ hours of research, correspondence, speech-writing, and dedication to basic human rights had paid off.
HRW STF looks forward to continuing to advocate for human rights by expanding the reach of the CRC, as well as working on other campaigns surrounding youth experiencing homelessness, climate change, and genocide awareness and prevention.
Submitted by Culver City STF
Editor’s Note: Since 2009, Human Rights Watch Student Task Force has advocated for the adoption of the CRC in the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Clarita and Santa Monica. Check out the photos as we recognize and celebrate these successes.
“When We Walk”: A Family’s Journey
Purchase tickets today!
Don’t miss the HRW film screening and reception for “When We Walk” Sunday, January 26, 2019.
Tickets for STF students, teachers, alumni and friends are $15, but comp tickets are available. We are also looking for a couple of volunteers to help out day-of! Reach out to Kristin for more information.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Pam, Kristin and Nancy
Sunday, January 26, 2020
4:00 pm | Doors open, Meet & Greet with HRW’s Jane Buchanan
5:00 pm | Film Screening, followed by Q&A
7:00 pm | Tacos & Drinks Reception
Presented at New Roads School at the Herb Alpert Educational Village
3131 Olympic Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
New Yorker Jason DaSilva is facing the life-changing decision of whether to relocate to Austin, Texas to be closer to his young son who has moved with his mother following their recent divorce. Facing a rapidly progressing form of multiple sclerosis and experiencing a swift decline in his motor skills, Jason soon learns that the harsh restrictions of the US Medicaid system would prevent him from accessing the services he needs to live life as fully as possible, and from being the dad he wants to be for his young son. Left with this heart-aching choice, When We Walk, the follow-up to DaSilva’s Emmy Award-winning film When I Walk, reflects on Jason’s own childhood and relationship with his father, making his fight to keep his son resonate even more powerfully.
All attendees are invited to stay after the screening for a Q & A followed by a cocktail reception with the Disability Rights Activist, Vix Jensen and Human Rights Watch Disability Rights Division Deputy Director Jane Buchanan.
Tickets are unreserved and seating is first-come, first-served.
Places are limited so reserve your tickets today!
Student Task Force Tickets – $15 General Ticket – $30
Volunteers needed! Contact Kristin if you are interested!
National Organization Honors Student Task Force
December 10, 2019, International Human Rights Day: Human Rights Educators USAhonors Human Right Watch’s LA-based Student Task Force (STF) witha special Youth Engagement Recognition. The youth leadership-training program, which engages high school students and educators from the Los Angeles area and empowers them to advocate for human rights issues, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA), a national network promoting human rights education in the United States, makes this award in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. HRE USA recognizes STF’s leadership in the promotion of children’s rights and its youth activism locally, nationally, and internationally. As STF Founder and Executive Director Pam Bruns said, “This recognition will mean so much to our teachers and students. It is a strong affirmation of our mission and the dedicated work by our LA youth.”
Each year, STF works with approximately 300 student leaders in public and private schools in Los Angeles. The STF chapters reach out to more than 25,000 students. Chapters establish core leadership teams that work with the STF staff and teacher advisors to prepare weekly agendas, lead meetings, engage members, plan events on campus, collaborate with school faculty and liaise with other STF chapters in order to engage with their school communities.
STF’s annual human rights campaigns utilize research and reports from the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division on issues such as the Global Refugee Crisis, Ending Military Use of Schools, Child Soldiers, and Juvenile Justice. Every campaign has a built-in advocacy action open to all campus community members. Actions include meeting with elected officials, international diplomats, city councils and school boards and developing innovative awareness-raising events. This fall, STF is using the framework of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to investigate how children’s rights are impacted by climate change, homelessness in Los Angeles, gun violence and U.S. immigration detention.
In recognition of these achievements, HRE USA co-founder Nancy Flowers reiterated, “We are inspired in this age of Malala and Greta to see U.S. students organizing to tackle such vital human rights issues.”
2019 Wrap Up: STFers Honor Human Rights Day
December 10-11, 2019: Canyon High School, Da Vinci Schools, and New Roads School STF Chapters ended 2019 by educating their campuses about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and climate change.
Scroll to see photos of the events:
Children’s Rights Advocates in Action
To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, STFers are hosting a variety of events to engage their campus communities in human rights advocacy actions. Here are some recent examples of their work:
An Evening of Inspiration
November 12, 2019: Attendees of the 2019 HRW Voices for Justice Dinner were inspired to stand for human rights after powerful presentations from HRW’s Executive Director Ken Roth; Rohingya writer and activist Imran Mohammad; HRW researchers and advocates working in Africa, Iran and China; Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef and a performance by the Gay Men’s Choir.
STFers began the evening by holding a special reception for Imran Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who had to flee for his life at age 16. Despite achieving recognized refugee status by UNHCR, Imran was put into immigration detention in multiple countries, including the notorious Manus Island Detention Center on Papua New Guinea, where he sustained physical and psychological torture. Imran shared his story with students to inspire them to stand up for those without a voice, to take action against human rights violations around the world.
During the STF reception, participants also learned about STF advocacy for children’s rights impacted by climate change, homelessness in Los Angeles, gun violence and U.S. immigration detention, plus the Culver City HS STF chapter shared their work urging the Culver City City Council to adopt the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Council vote due January 27.)
Later in the evening, guests honored the life and legacy of STF’s and HRW’s most ardent supporter, Sid Sheinberg. It was followed by Lorraine Sheinberg’s special shoutout to STF and its founder, Pam Bruns, including a generous gift that will support the expansion of STF’s reach and its mission to empower youth as human rights defenders.
Are Empathy and Resources Available?
November 6-8, 2019: In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, 95% of LA County voters say homelessness is Los Angeles’ biggest problem. “…The poll showed broad agreement that societal problems — especially a lack of affordable housing and mental health resources — play a major role in causing homelessness”…
In order to help their classmates better understand how youth in Los Angeles might become homeless, Santa Monica and Palisades Charter High School STF chapters hosted homeless youth advocate Tamar Chafets. Tamar shared the story of a former student at Santa Monica HS student whose family ran into housing trouble and had to move from an apartment to a motel and ultimately to a shelter. Tamar’s goal in telling the story was to help dispel myths around homelessness and encouraged students to be empathetic and supportive of all their classmates, some of whom they may not realize are food or housing insecure.
STF leaders at Santa Monica HS shared the preliminary results of their Youth Homelessness Campus Action Survey and had the 90 attendees break into groups to brainstorm ways STF and the school administration could better serve food and housing insecure students on campus. Ideas included resource cards, a food closet and a menstrual product drive.
At Palisades Charter HS, the audience learned that Los Angeles has the highest number of homeless individuals in the country, that 50,000-60,000 people are homeless on any night in Los Angeles County, and that youth, from minors through age 24, make up 8,915 of the county’s homeless population. Pali STF is also conducting a school-wide survey of resources available for home and food insecure students and how that information is made available.
Contact Kristin if you’re interested in inviting Tamar to speak at your school!
Investigating Waste at Sierra Canyon
November 5, 2019: Realizing their campus is in an area heavily impacted by wildfires, drought and other signs of climate change, Sierra Canyon STFers decided to take steps to ensure their school community does everything it can to reduce its carbon footprint.
Students conducted a waste audit of the trash and recycling opportunities on campus. They found that less than half of the classrooms and facilities had recycling bins, and those available around campus are not properly used.
In collaboration with school administrators, STFers are putting recycle bins in every classroom, administrative offices, the library and gym, and making sure they are labeled so students can learn what is and isn’t recyclable.
Next steps will be to collect plastic bottles thrown away on campus and turn them into an art installation!
Pali Tackles Climate Change
Submitted by Palisades Charter High School STF:
October 10, 2019, the Palisades Student Task Force chapter continued their urgent activism against climate change with their second lunchtime awareness-raising event. The activity was centered in the main Pali quad and featured:
- AP Environmental Science teacher Mr. Englemann, who answered burning climate change questions;
- An STF exhibition tent filled with powerful posters with passionate visuals and heart wrenching statistics, plus youth supported climate change legislation;
- A voter pre-registration and registration booth to emphasize our human right to take part in our government;
- Pledge boards inviting students to personally make promises to combat climate change.
This was a powerful experience for these STF environmental advocates and they look forward to continuing events like this throughout the coming year to speak up for their human rights to a future.
Culver City Meets with Mayor Sahli-Wells
October 30, 2019: In 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), STF members urged Los Angeles, Santa Clarita and Santa Monica City Councils to pass resolutions adopting the CRC on a local level. Inspired by their success, Culver City HS STF leaders recently met with Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells to present a draft resolution asking the City Council for its support of the CRC.
The mayor enthusiastically supported the proposal and encouraged the students to attend the next City Council meeting on Monday, November 18, to present their draft resolution to the entire council.
Mayor Sahli-Wells also offered to draft a proclamation that November 20, 2019 be officially recognized as the 30th anniversary of the CRC in Culver City. She will present her proclamation at the November 18 meeting.
Congratulations on such an impactful meeting Culver City STFers! The goal now is to get a strong student turnout at the November 18 City Council meeting to show their support for this initiative! If you’re interested in attending, contact Kristin for details.
Advocating for Children’s Rights
September 7, 2019: Thirty years ago, the world made a promise to all its children. When the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989, they committed to do everything in their power to promote and protect children’s rights. At their fall workshop, STF also committed to help fulfill that promise by taking action on serious rights violations.
Using the framework of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 75 STF students, teachers and special guests discussed:
- Climate change,
- Ending gun violence,
- Children caught in the inhumane U.S. immigration detention centers,
- and Homeless youth in Los Angeles.
To begin their education process, participants viewed video excerpts of world renowned student advocates and heard from special guest speaker Tamar Chafets about her experiences working with homeless youth in Los Angeles since 2003. Following the presentations, STFers rotated through information stations and explored advocacy options they can share with their chapters.
To view materials utilized at the workshop, please visit the campaign toolkit.
Save the Date: STF Fall Leadership Workshop
Dear STF Leaders and Teacher Advisors,
Please join us for the STF Fall Leadership Workshop (click to officially RSVP) to learn about our new fall advocacy campaign! The event will be generously hosted at the Moss Theater at New Roads School in Santa Monica.
Who: You, STF leaders, Teacher Advisors, guests, speakers
When: Saturday, September 7, 9:30am-2:30pm
Where: New Roads School (map)
3131 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Mark your calendars and RSVP today!
STF Turns 20: Celebration Photos
August 17, 2019: On a splendid summer day overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Ann Kerr, Coordinator of the Visiting Fulbright Scholars program at UCLA, generously hosted the Student Task Force 20th anniversary reunion at her home in the Palisades. STF alumni, teacher advisors, interns, and special guests celebrated twenty years of training thousands of young advocates to protect human rights in their school communities and around the world. Responding to the frequent question of graduating high schoolers, “How do we stay connected with STF and Human Rights Watch?”, alumni at the party committed to forming an STF Alumni Network in Los Angeles. The new group will support the Los Angeles HRW Film Club screenings and ongoing HRW digital advocacy. Details to come. Let us know if you want to take part in developing this dynamic expansion of STF activism.