Our Voices

Human Rights Defender Spotlight: Darrick Hamilton and Dr. Helen Bond

Darrick Hamilton: Economic Rights

What are Economic Rights?

Economic rights are human rights that relate to the workplace, social security and access to housing, food, water, healthcare and education. They include the right to fair wages and equal pay; the right to adequate protection in the event of unemployment, sickness or old age; or the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to work and freely choose one’s employment, the right to join labor unions and professional associations.

How is Darrick protecting, promoting and defending economic rights?

Darrick Hamilton is a leader in advancing economic rights as human rights. Darrick Hamilton is the Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy at The New School. He is also the founding director of the Institute on Race, Power, and Political Economy at The New School. Hamilton is a pioneer and internationally recognized scholar whose work fuses social science methods to examine the causes, consequences, and remedies of racial, gender, ethnic, tribal, and nativity inequality in education, economic, and health outcomes. This work involves crafting and implementing innovative routes and policies that break down social hierarchy, empower people, and move society toward greater equity, inclusion, and civic participation.

From Darrick’s interview with The Rockefeller Foundation:

What keeps you up at night and what makes you feel optimistic about the future?

The dysfunctional levels of inequality suggest to me that the current system is going to be hard to change marginally, but it’s primed towards something dramatic. The fear in this is that we can go toward fascism. However, it’s also a scenario by which we can trend towards justice.

The first act in President Biden’s administration was an executive order that asked all agencies in the federal government to consider race in their vision plan, and put forth measures and mechanisms to advance racial equality. Previous administrations didn’t—wouldn’t—think of that. In the pandemic, we’ve seen the might of government in ways that people would’ve said is impossible in the past. Like being able to literally use the IRS treasury to send checks to Americans so as to not fall into a deep depression and maintain their livelihood.

I think our job is to make sure that we’re building the narrative, the movement, and the policies to be ready for that Overton moment. And we also are trying to forge it as well. We’re strategically investing in it.

So that question I keep getting is, asking “can we achieve it tomorrow?” The answer is, I don’t know and neither do you. But that’s almost irrelevant. The point is to commit to justice, because it’s the right thing to do, and be ready when that opportunity presents itself.

Dr. Helen Bond: Social Rights

What are Social Rights?

Social rights concern how people live and work together, and the basic necessities of life. Social rights lay the groundwork for a dignified and empowered life. They include the rights to food, health, education, an adequate standard of living, affordable housing, social security, and labor protections.

How is Helen protecting, promoting and defending social rights?

Dr. Bond is a University Professor in the School of Education at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She is also co-chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN USA), and executive council member to the Center for Women, Gender, & Global Leadership at Howard University.

With a Ph.D. in Human Development and a background in International Diplomacy, Dr. Bond’s expertise is in teacher education, education for sustainable development, and human development in refugee and crisis contexts. She has served as an expert in these areas in over 20 countries including Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Cuba, Ethiopia, including the Somali region of Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Liberia, South Africa, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, and the United States. She co-authored a white paper entitled “Lessons from COVID-19 for Climate Change” with colleagues from SDSN and Springer Nature that discussed how interdisciplinary and indigenous knowledge is key to addressing crises.

Dr. Bond also co-chairs a SDSN working group on diversity, equity, and justice for sustainable development. The UNSDSN was set up in 2012 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General to mobilize advocacy around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She was one of the coauthors of Never More Urgent: A Preliminary Review of How the US is Leaving Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous Communities Behind and In the Red: the US Failure to Deliver on a Promise of Racial Equality, which displays how US states are delivering the SDGs across different racial and ethnic groups in the US.

From Helen: Bending the Future

My hope and aspiration for advancing human rights begins with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Justice.” But does it? Is progress a steady march forward with a slight diversion here and there? If we just give it more time, the next generation will move us toward a more just society. This thinking is perilously dangerous and wrong. The arc of the moral universe does bend, but not always toward justice. We have lost ground on reproductive rights and voting rights. During the Reconstruction era (1863-1877), 17 African Americans served in the United States Congress, 15 in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate—one an escaped slave, Blanche K. Bruce. It would take nearly a century (eight decades, to be exact) before another Black Senator would be sworn in.

There is no steady state where the universe simply drifts toward justice and democracy.

We need “benders” to achieve Dr. King’s dream. While I have great hope for our youth, I am concerned that the anti-inclusive education many are exposed to will leave them lacking the knowledge, skills, and values needed to advocate for a more democratic and anti-racist future. Many state legislative bodies have proposed or passed divisive concept bills banning certain books and topics from being taught in schools. A Texas State Board of Education rejected seven science textbooks because they included climate change education. Florida enacted standards that allow schools to teach that slavery was little more than an apprenticeship program. Some enslavers recognized that enslaved people with certain skills were more marketable on the auction block—except for reading and writing, which was illegal for enslaved people in all but three slave states. South Carolina passed a law that barred any upward mobility attempts of Black people by taxing them if they worked in any capacity other than a common farmer or servant. South Carolina, the Palmetto State passed its first anti-critical race theory legislation in 1740 called the Negro Act. The divisive concept in the Negro Act was writing. Anyone caught teaching or employing an enslaved person as a scribe could be fined one hundred pounds. When the last drop of forced labor was extracted from the veins of enslaved people, many were left to fend on their own.

Each February, I conduct Black history presentations in schools, prisons, and other organizations. My hope and aspiration for advancing a society that is anti-racist and respects the rights of all people, begins with the acknowledgement of Black history. We cannot build a future on a fake past. Let’s bend this arc by telling the truth.