After their series about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came to a close last month, the STTP Youth Advisory Board members reflect on the themes and speakers that were featured. To join their next virtual series, register here

This spring, RFK Human Rights’ Speak Truth to Power team launched our Youth Advisory Board, and with it our first youth-led human rights education programs for young people. Because so much human rights activism and international cooperation is based on the UN SDGs, educating youth about these global initiatives is crucial. Simply put, we wanted to provide an entry point and a foundation for young human rights activists.

Our experiences at Speak Truth to Power’s Organizing for Change workshops inspired us to expand our programming to ensure that youth participants receive human rights education and also feel empowered to enact change. To achieve that, we asked experts in the field to provide background on much of the subject matter, and we invited activists to show participants how to get involved in working for human rights.

Outlining the ambitious UN goals was essential to this program. We highlighted the global cooperation measures being undertaken to combat poverty, hunger, climate change, and human rights violations by addressing these three key areas: prosperity, peace, and partnership; people; and planet.

We kicked off the series in February with “Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships.” Glenn Mitoma, director of Dodd Human Rights Impact at the University of Connecticut, discussed how the UN’s 193 member nations negotiated and ambitiously agreed upon the SDGs. He highlighted the global consensus for nations to expand upon the UN’s previous Millennium Development goals while balancing the interests and realities each member nation faces, and he emphasized that the SDGs ensure global initiatives are directed not just at developing nations, but at developed nations, too. 

Activists Cara Kennedy-Cuomo and Wemimo Abbey told the audience that the success of these goals and broader human rights activism are not only up to the adults in the room. Kennedy-Cuomo talked about her role in shaping the policy landscape of the SDGs, and Abbey explained the anti-poverty objectives of his startup, Esusu. They encouraged participants to think of new, innovative ways they could enter the human rights space.

In March, Women’s History Month, Speak Truth to Power hosted humanitarian diplomat Gesu Antonio Baez and Nadya Okamoto and Nick Jain, founders of the period awareness platform August. In discussing the importance of diplomacy, Antonio Baez stressed the possibility of human rights progress in nations that are not traditionally seen as cooperative. He also talked about the virtues of “living diplomatically,” even outside the international relations sphere. He said he believes the lessons learned as a diplomat promote cross-cultural understanding and empathy in everyday life.

Okamoto and Jain discussed how they turned to alternative ways to make progress in an area that is often taboo to talk about: period rights. Okamoto and Jain discussed August’s simple yet powerful mission to expand period information access, a key tenet of the SDGs’ gender equality goals, in an environmentally friendly way. By showing the downstream human rights effects of periods, such as a lack of access to education, they bring attention to the multifaceted nature of making an impact in ways that are not immediately obvious.

We wrapped up the series by focusing on the planet with climate activist Marie-Claire Graf, who served as a representative of Switzerland at the United Nations during climate negotiations. Graf’s wealth of experience at such a young age is a testament to young people’s ability to have an extraordinary impact on the future of human rights. Encouraging youth to get involved in human rights work, no matter the field, Graf stressed the importance of finding their “why” to guide their activism and of ensuring their own mental well-being, especially when tackling such formidable issues.

Though our 2021 Sustainable Development Goals series has ended, our work has not. On May 15, we will launch the Good Trouble summer program, inspired by the legacy of the late John Lewis, to introduce young people to community organizing. By combining organizing tools and knowledge with the installation of authenticity and purpose, the program will encourage young human rights activists to make Good Trouble. 

You can find more information on the Good Trouble Program summer workshop and RSVP here.