Monday, March 23, 2009

Human Rights, North Idaho Style

On Monday, March 16th, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Human Rights Education Institute and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations dinner/fundraiser/awards banquet. Four hundred and fifteen people, count them, 4 1 5, attended the dinner. Of course a thousand would have been better, but this is north Idaho, and getting that many people out on a Monday night impressed me.

Thanks to Jeanne Buell, Idaho Democratic Party Vice-Chair, both Laura Bry, Bonner County Democratic Central Committee Chair, and myself, received invitations to sit at Jeanne's table. Of course, friends from around north Idaho also sat at the table and it's always nice to reconnect with others in the north Idaho community.

The Coeur d'Alene Press provided a good overview of the events, including the exciting announcement of the Civil Rights Award to Scott and Mary Lou Reed. Having known Scott for almost twenty years, and Mary Lou for almost as many, it pleased me to no end to see them awarded for the many contributions they consistently make to the people of north Idaho. You guys are the best! We should all try to follow your example.

Nontombi Naomi Tutu gave an inspired, heartfelt, pointedly truthful speech about racism. She said that in order to heal the wounds of racism, we have to recognize that racism in each and every one of us. Pointing out that although people may say we don't see differences, we do, as is so evident when we look at what children say ("out of the mouths of babes and sucklings"). Through their words, we can all see that children see differences, and they see these differences as opportunities to learn, but as adults we try to shush the children in order to be polite or whatever. Nonbombi Tutu suggested that, like children, we should see differences as truth, talk about those differences, and respond to, and appreciate them.

She gave the example of white people saying, "I don't think of you as black," meaning black has a stigma or story for the rest of the community. So when a white woman can finally make that statement, what it really means is that she now trusts and respects the black person. Prejudices exist, and until we know and recognize them, we cannot begin to come together. She gave us, a room full of white people, a glimpse into the causes of racism and asked us to recognize difference as opportunity. I think her point was well taken.

I felt honored to be there, and proud as well, to be a member of a community that seeks to educate about racism, prejudice, and human rights. I am so thankful for all the Human Rights activists, in Idaho in particular, and around the world. It takes all colors to make a rainbow.

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