Two weeks or so ago, I had the opportunity of performing with the Friends Jazz I ensemble as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Benefit Concert. The goal of the event, which happens around the same time each year, is to raise money for the Friends Shelter, a nightly 14-bed homeless shelter run out of the Friends common room. Our band opened for the Meetinghouse Jazz Band, a professional big band led by Bob Rosen, joined by tenor saxophonist Steve Wilson. When I think of community service, what generally first comes to mind is planting bulbs in a park or working in a homeless shelter. As a result, playing in the MLK concert each of the last four years has been a unique service experience for me—I’ve gotten to serve our community by doing something I love doing regardless of whether there’s a charitable cause involved.
I wonder, does service have to “feel” like service for it to be valuable to those doing the service? The way I see it, a large part of the reason we do service at Friends, in addition to helping others, is to grow from the experience of putting ourselves into often uncomfortable positions for others’ sake. I personally enjoy playing jazz regardless of whether my performance is for a good cause. But, given how much money and awareness the benefit concert raised, perhaps there’s nothing wrong with serving yourself in serving others.
This December I went to the United Nations Student Conference on Human Rights. It is a international student conference (this year included New York, Wyoming, France, Canada, and Mexico). Students get together and come up with campaigns for human rights issues. The first day consisted of presentations on different human rights issues made by the students. I made a presentation on human trafficking with Morgan Carmen. The second day we were split into sub groups to create campaign plans to help combat our respective issues, and the third day we presented these campaigns to real human rights activists who then critiqued them.
It was an amazing experience that allowed me not only to meet new people but also to learn how I could make a difference. Creating our campaign was fun, and it was interesting to see how different ideas combined to overcome the obstacles. I spoke in front of the entire conference on all three days, and there were a lot of people there. This helped me improve my public speaking and presentation skills.
I learned a lot about different human rights issues. Human trafficking was my main focus, and I had never realized how much of an issue it is. It is just a disguised form of modern day slavery that exists all over the world, including America. I also learned about other issues through other people’s presentations such as women’s rights and freedom of speech for all.
Getting to collaborate with different people with different opinions was an interesting experience that helped to broaden my views on issues. Overall, it was an incredible experience which I would love to do again.
This past December, I attended the United Nations Conference on Human Rights with 15 other Friends students and others from schools across the nation, and even some schools in other countries.
During the conference, we explored many different human rights issues, such as girls’ education, environmental sustainability, and child mortality. The conference provided each of the students in attendance with a greater knowledge of human rights issues and how the UN and organizations such as Amnesty International work to eradicate these problems. After being supplied with a solid foundation of knowledge regarding these issues, we broke up into focused groups to work on proposals.
I believe that educating students on human rights issues that face the world today is extremely important because we are capable of being active catalysts for change in our community and in the world if given the tools to succeed.
This conference allowed me to explore my interest in the human rights issue of girls’ education and to collaborate with others who share similar interests and goals.