by Aquib Yacoob, 2014 Ladis Kristof Memorial Fellow
I am honored to have spent this past summer as Ladis Kirstof Fellow for Organizing and Activism. I was fortunate; I discovered the power of activism on my first day as a freshman back in high school – I was 14.
After joining my school’s Amnesty International chapter at a rally outside of the United Nations – as the saying goes – my flame was ignited. I discovered a new voice. I discovered a new community. I discovered my individual power, and the collective power we hold when we organize, when we mobilize.
I’ve been involved with Amnesty since that day, now some seven years ago. I’ve volunteered in-and-out of our national, regional and legislative offices in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC, respectively. I’ve participated in human rights conferences across the United States. I’ve met with some of the most inspirational human beings our world has to offer. All of this, as an Amnesty member.
The 2014 Ladis Kristof Fellowship allowed me to enter the world of human rights and social justice professionally. It took my engagement to the next level. My time spent working with and learning from Amnesty staff and member leaders has confirmed one thing: this is where I want to be; working towards a socially just world, working “in human rights” – this is my raison d’être, so to speak.
I spent my Fellowship based out of our National Office in New York, where I lead a team of five to organize, mobilize and elevate human rights here in the US and around the world. From strategic planning sessions and activist resource development, to mobilizing the largest Amnesty presence in a New York PRIDE parade, to representing AIUSA at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland – my team and I covered the broad spectrum of human rights activism and organizing.
One of the most impactful experiences during my Kristof was participating in the Amnesty International Human Rights Delegation to Ferguson, Missouri. I left another Amnesty Delegation on Discrimination in Switzerland directly for Ferguson, following the police shooting of unarmed, 18 year old Michael Brown. As our team of Human Rights Observers and Street Medics spent our days and nights observing interactions between the state and the community, as the fumes of teargas blew closer and the echoes of rubber bullets grew louder, I grew angrier and frustrated.
But with each day, with each organizer, with each young person I met, I also became hopeful – inspired by the level and the power of the community organizing happening on the ground. United, our community of activists and organizers stood up and fought back – we’re still standing, we’re still fighting – demanding justice and demanding respect of human rights and human dignity.
Now, I’m completing my final year of undergraduate studies at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, lost in the texts of Paulo Freire and Michel Focault, the framing of two theses, and a slue of on-and-off campus human rights organizing around discrimination and racial profiling – excited for a new direction post-graduation: hoping to return to Amnesty International USA. Hoping to return as a member of the incredible team of organizers and campaigners working towards a world free of discrimination, of torture, of human rights abuses.