The event, organized by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) and the New York City Commission on Human Rights, was a call to action to youth.
“Positive change is possible when we unite in action. By being here, you’re responding to the call for action,” Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, told more than 500 students attending the event.
She noted that in today’s polarized world, change won’t happen without the creativity and energy of young people.
Passion and innovation
“The passion, energy and innovation in your thinking are the catalysts,” she noted. “You’re not only the leaders of tomorrow, you’re the leaders of today.”
During the event, students presented research they compiled to highlight the challenges created by a lack of funding for mental health programmes, a lack of diversity in education, systematic racism, and specific challenges faced by homeless youth.
In addition to presentations, students from the non-profit People’s Theatre Project, performed “Take it Seriously”, a series of scenes showing how mental health stressors impact high-school students. These include stress from peers, stress due to family members, and stress resulting from the media and pop culture.
Mental health support lacking
During the discussions, one of the students noted a lack of sufficient funding for mental support services in school. Another pointed to the impact of systematic racism against young students. Discussions also touched on rising fees for public schools, and how students can be denied access to drop-in homeless shelters to sleep there overnight.
“Children shouldn’t have to change for the system. The system should change for them,” one student said.
Prior to the discussions, students heard from activist and Brooklyn native Chelsea Miller, who led the students in a call-and-response urging greater action from world leaders.
Calling for action
“Collective punishment,” said Ms. Miller, as some 500 students called out “Shame.”
“State-sanctioned violence… Shame.”
“So, to our world leaders, we are saying shame,” Ms. Miller concluded to cheers from the audience.
The event was organized ahead of Human Rights Day, commemorated on 10 December.
The Chair and Commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights, Annabel Palma, who is a life-long resident of the Bronx, said Sunday’s milestone commemoration and today’s event was an opportunity to bring everyone’s voices to the table.
“We’re all one city and we’re all in this together – if we give the best that we can to each other and to our city.”