VOICES: Uniting Dayton for human rights

Uniting Dayton for Human Rights is a diverse movement of community members working toward making Dayton a Human Rights City, one where government officials and residents work together in an open, participatory way to reduce inequality and discrimination, and improve the well-being of all residents. About 50 human rights cities exist worldwide, including 11 in the US. Human rights are an ideal framework to guide our activities. They apply to all human beings, are clear and concise, and set the minimum conditions for people to live a life with dignity.

Our movement has been meeting for the past 15 months across the city. We bring together community leaders, activists, scholars, and anyone concerned about our community to develop a shared vision and plan to achieve our goals. We looked at examples from other human rights cities and their diverse approaches.

The meetings are lively and exciting. Folks come with many perspectives and backgrounds. We all want to make Dayton a better place but we don’t always agree on the details. We also realize we don’t know everything. We have much to share but we need more knowledge from the people of Dayton. Folks from all walks of life in different neighborhoods have real-world expertise, wisdom and lived experiences that need to be included if we want our efforts to be successful.

We have decided to follow a two-part strategy to make Dayton a human rights city:

1) We will work with city officials to draft a formal resolution declaring Dayton a Human Rights City, including clear language about the city’s specific activities to improve human rights.

2) We will work to create a groundswell of knowledge about and support for human rights citywide with a series of community meetings designed as interactive workshops where knowledge is generated and shared by participants and organizers.

We held the first of these workshops on Feb. 23 at the Northwest Branch of the Dayton Metro Library. More than 30 participants worked in groups to share information on important issues facing people in the city and possible resolutions. We shared what human rights are and what we are doing to improve them in Dayton. It was a dynamic space with many great ideas.

Poverty, racism, inequality, education, housing insecurity, violence, lack of opportunity, food insecurity, and lack of access to health care were some of the problems identified. Participants also focused on breakdowns in social structures — from the family to neighborhoods — and a lack of “community-mindedness” and “civic responsibility” by many residents. The responses revealed a complex web of social, cultural, economic, political, and personal factors to overcome or address.

Education, awareness-raising, and community action were seen as critical next steps. Many also called for better, more transparent, and accountable connections between local officials and residents. We talked about how becoming a Human Rights City can help to improve participation in local democracy and accountability, as well as benefit city leaders by encouraging community support and ideas to tackle challenges. Finally, we agreed on engaging more young people, emerging leaders, and the faith community.

We ended the workshop with a pledge to take action. Participants wrote down their next steps. Most promised to spread the word, get more involved, and bring at least one new person to the next meeting.

Our next workshop will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on March 11 at the University of Dayton School of Law in Keller Hall. It is open to all. Please help us in Uniting Dayton for Human Rights. Call 937-229-3294 or email HRC@udayton.edu to register.

Tony Talbott is the Director of Advocacy at the University of Dayton Human Rights Center, a member of the steering group of Uniting Dayton for Human Rights, and a resident of Dayton.

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