GenUN Fellow Blake Johnson: Engage With UNA’s Human Rights Initiative


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UNA-USA seeks to empower today’s youth leaders to advance human rights in their communities and around the world. This generation of Americans, more so than any before, have an incredible opportunity through modern connection networks, global impact, and advocacy reach.

There are several avenues and leadership opportunities to do just that. The Gen UN program of UNA-USA has launched a Human Rights Initiative that will further connect youth leaders globally, increase understanding of global human rights issues, empower youth capacity to face such issues, and provide support, funding, and training for youth leaders.

There are three main tracks that will enable youth leaders to impact human rights.

Track 1-Convening and Connecting

There are fun and engaging ways to connect peers to human rights issues. There are many innovative events and ideas to raise awareness in your community and recognition in your community. Furthermore, UNA-USA will provide micro-grants ranging from $100-$1,000 to support chapters with creative projects and events. This is in the hope of highlighting the national effort of the initiative on Human Rights Day on December 10. Your event can be before, during, or after December 10, depending on whichever time works best for your chapter and its fall school schedule. Keep in mind that there may well be other organizations on campus to partner with, like the UN’s two new public campaigns “He for She” and “Free and Equal.” To view greater info on the micro-grants, including the application and deadlines, click here.

Track 2-UN Reporting and Consultations

Connect not just to other chapters and campus organizations, but to the UN as well. UNA-USA hosted grassroots chapter consultations across the nation things focusing on things such as the new Global Goals of the UN, the UN Human Rights Committee, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). For example, this September the UN Human Rights Office is asking for input from UNA members on protecting the rights of young people. In your view, how can the new Global Goals be implemented to protect the rights of all youth, and that no one is left behind? Discuss this question and more with your fellow advocates. No matter who you are or what you study, if you have a passion for this issue, we encourage you to call in to the discussion. The results of the call will be shared with the UN and also posted on UN Human Rights Office website. Please RSVP here for more information.

Track 3-Trainings and Advocacy

Connecting with the UNA-USA national office has many benefits. There are scholarships made available to attend events such as the Leadership Summit in D.C. in June. At these events you receive training from professional staff, ranging from engaging members of congress to building local membership in your community. Participants are introduced to other youth leaders from across the U.S. UNA-USA also recently sent Rina Patel and Jose Sirven to the World Federation of UNA Youth Human Rights Training in Geneva, Switzerland along with UNA delegates from various UN member states. They will now seek to implement and share their training in their own communities. Even if you can’t attend these conferences, there are other opportunities to get involved.

Every year, in conjunction with the State Department, UNA-USA selects a U.S. Youth Observer who serves as an ambassador for all U.S. youth. This year it is the wonderful Nicol Perez, a Product and Communications Associate at Instagram. You can always, of course, connect with Nicol through social media @USYouthObserver to learn and discuss more on human rights. Furthermore, GenUN has four regional fellows that support campus chapters (I work with the South/Southeast). It is our job to do everything we can for the chapters in our area. Another opportunity is to invite staff from UNA-USA as guest speakers or for help with onsite advocacy training. To read more about them, the U.S. Youth Observer, and other Gen UN trainings and events, visit here.

The stage of youth advancement of human rights has been set. An amazing script of what can be done has been written and the costumes and props, the tools we use, are there and available. Now all that’s left is for us to play our parts.

For more info on the Human Rights Initiative, including policy briefs and ideas for campus events, click here

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