All’s Well in CA!

Greetings, all! This is Ms. Halfi reporting (from Troy) on behalf of the California trip. Heard great news from the Envoys field operator in charge of the trip:

“All is well in California! The group is happy to have arrived, if a little tired from their travels and the jet lag. They met up with Envoys program leaders at the airport and had some time to freshen up in the bathrooms and have some snacks before boarding their bus. They went to Venice Beach to conduct their program briefing and the creation of their full value contract, and then had time to explore the Santa Monica Pier and the surrounding neighborhood in small groups. They met back for dinner and then headed to the hotel to check in and go to bed.”

She also reported that today (Tuesday) marks the beginning of their journey towards Joshua Tree state park. Due to a forecast of very high winds in the Joshua Tree area tonight, they have re-routed their plans to camp tonight to instead board in a nearby hotel. Camping will still happen after tonight, though, as the forecast looks much milder from here on in.

Keep checking back here for updates from the trip participants throughout the week!

“Think About What You Saw”

Those are the words on a prominent sign as you exit the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC. We can’t think of a more powerful way to explore human rights than to take a deep and extremely emotional dive into one of the most horrific human rights violations in humanity. Prior to visiting, our group had a thoughtful discussion about the psychology of “groupthink” and how simple it can be for societies, governments, and individuals to turn a blind eye to pain and suffering of others l— especially when that pain and suffering is reported on a massive scale. This experience enriched our ability to explore human rights through a historical lens while also thinking about the part we play as individuals today.

Unanimously, our group decided that The National Holocaust Memorial Museum is an essential experience for anyone looking to examine human rights, past and present.

Lessons Learned from Global Giving, EPA, and White House EJ Council

Tuesday gave us the opportunity to meet with three different organizations that are connected to human rights advocacy: Global Giving, the EPA Office of Environmental Justice & External Civil Rights, and the White House Environmental Justice Council.

Global Giving gave us an inside look at the intricate and often-complicated paths of funding behind humanitarian support around the world. This organization, founded in 2002, is a complex operation that prioritizes channeling financial support from donors to small, on-the-ground, non-profit organizations that are led by members of the very same communities that are most impacted by human rights issues whether it be natural disaster, war and persecution, political unrest, displacement, famine, gender violence, or any other impactful global situations impacting access to resources that grant any given community access to basic human rights as outlined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their philosophy to empower local, community-based leaders is founded in the philosophy that community-led efforts are agile, connected, flexible, and most importantly: they know what the true needs of their community are. Special thanks to our hosts at Global Giving, Jenny and Caroline, for spending so much time with us answering questions. A particular highlight of this visit was watching a clip from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight that highlighted Global Giving’s participation in a fundraising effort to support efforts in Belarus to fight for democracy.

In our afternoon visits to the EPA OEJECR and the White House EJC, we were able to hear about how these two organizations are placing human rights at the center of science-based environmental work. We heard about the connection between the higher likelihood for marginalized communities to be in closer contact with higher levels of toxins, pollution, and industrial waste, and how communities with higher financial resources are more likely to have the ability to access legal support and political power to keep these kinds of hazards away from their homes and businesses. It was uplifting to hear about the work being done by these organizations to hold other governmental agencies accountable for actions that could potentially have a marginalizing and harmful impact on already-historically-discriminated communities.

While the information we are exploring can be heavy, the flip side is hearing about the amazing work being done to combat injustice and uplift human rights for all; regardless of who they are, where they are born, what they look like, how much access to financial resources they have. Every human deserves basic human rights, and we are all feeling uplifted by the good work of these and many other organizations!

Human Rights Exploration Has Begun!

After our arrival on Monday afternoon followed by a delicious dinner at a Ramen bar near our hotel, we engaged in a thoughtful conversation about many different aspects of the concept of human rights. We began by reflecting upon the following prompt: “Think about a moment from your own childhood when you first came into awareness of a human rights or humanitarian crisis. From where/whom did you receive this information? What were the people closest to you saying about it? Did you know of any organizations that were working to aid those most impacted by the crisis?” After some time journaling about this question, our group had a thoughtful conversation in which many different topics came up such as: public health, disaster relief, displacement, famine, drought, domestic violence, housing, militarization, unfair labor conditions, unfair imprisonment, and many more. This conversation led to an examination of the 30 articles from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafted in 1948. Throughout this week in our explorations of organizations, museums, and memorials, we will be thinking about this declaration and the ways it has influenced human rights advocacy work.

Tuesday was a packed day with visits to three organizations: Global Giving, The Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, and the White House Office Environmental Justice Council. More details to come soon about the specific learning that took place during those visits!

Looking Ahead to Our Week in DC: Exploration of Human Rights

Here’s a glimpse into the kinds of questions our Emma students will be grappling with this week as we explore the topic of Human Rights; past, present, and future:

  • What are human rights?
  • What is the difference between the idea of ‘human rights’ and ‘civil rights’?
  • What are some of the ways human rights have been violated throughout history?
  • What has been done to protect and promote human rights around the world?
  • What is being done presently to respond to human rights crises and violations around the world?
  • What organizations, policies, and systems are in place to help prevent human rights violations in the future?
  • What role has/does the media and press play(ed) in times of humanitarian crises?

Tomorrow we embark on a 5-day journey to Washington DC, where we will be visiting some amazing organizations such as USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, Global Giving, and the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights among other influential human rights institutions. To dive deep into the history of some of the most prominent and egregious human rights violations in history, we have resources at an arm’s reach such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, The Holocaust Memorial Museum, and The National Museum of the American Indian.

Check back in daily to follow along on our learning journey!

The Lorraine Motel

On our last day of the Civil Rights tour, we visited the somber location of Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN hosted Dr. King many times over the years in his Civil Rights work, and it was this final visit to Memphis as he was supporting the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike when he was shot by an assassin from a window in a building across the street. Although the place feels surreal when you visit, the emotions are palpable and poignant. The motel has been turned into a Civil Rights museum; one of the most powerful visits we experienced on the week-long journey.



Our day in Selma, AL started at the Voting Rights Museum, and took us to the Slavery and Civil War Museum, the Brown AME Church where Dr. King organized the famous the march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights, and then a thoughtful walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

SPLC Civil Rights Memorial

The Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery was created by Maya Lin, the same artist who designed the famous Vietnam Veteran’s War Memorial in Washington, DC. It is an inverted conical fountain with 40 names of Civil Rights heroes who lost their lives engraved underneath the glassy surface of the flowing water, inviting visitors to reach into the fountain to touch the engravings.