Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute's Fall 2020 Racial Justice Events
February 11, 2021, New York - Building on a long-standing commitment to antiracism, the Human Rights Institute held a series of events illuminating some of the most pressing human rights challenges today. From mass incarceration to Black Lives Matter to intersectional feminism in the Civil Rights era, our Fall 2020 events centered and amplified Black voices seeking equity and justice. Responding to the surge of activism and organizing during the summer, the Human Rights Institute hosted four events for students, faculty, and practitioners to foster ongoing dialogue and reflection on progress and challenges in achieving racial justice.
This series was an opportunity to incorporate new perspectives on antiracism into legal work. Artists, activists, experts, and advocates shared stories and expertise from their diverse fields, from music performance to public health research, grassroots organizing to international law practice. “We had the pleasure of bringing together an exceptionally accomplished roster of speakers to share insights on some of the most pressing issues in antiracism work today, said HRI’s Assistant Director of Programs, Jessica Pierson. “The conversations we hosted this season fostered high-level, cross-sectoral dialogue between the various panelists, but also, as a series, formed a semester-long conversation about the layered promises and challenges of the movement for racial justice.”
The inaugural event of the season featured The Dream Unfinished, an activist orchestra that uses classical music to explore social and racial justice. This event on women’s suffrage and the fight for intersectionality incorporated a community reading of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer’s speech, “I am Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired.” Following the performance, several prominent activists and strategists shared their thoughts on voting rights and civic engagement.
As Coronavirus continues to spread, HRI elevated themes from the Spring 2020 event series on COVID-19, focusing on the intersection of racial justice and public health, with a spotlight on mass incarceration. The second event in the series brought together lawyers, formerly incarcerated individuals, and health experts to discuss how crises like COVID-19 disproportionately threaten and claim Black lives, as well as proposals to improve racial equity in public health responses.
In November, the series focused on global manifestations of Black Lives Matter, exploring protests for the rights of Afro-descendants in Brazil, Columbia, France, and the United States, and how to overcome structural and institutional racism.
As part of an intimate discussion with law students, Marissa Jackson Sow, Columbia Law School alumna, discussed her path from law school through private practice, local government, and human rights advocacy. She shared her own understanding of human rights which captures their breadth and relevance.
“I understand civil rights to be a part of human rights, and I always understood that the United States was part of the world and not an exception therefrom, and that human rights apply to Americans just as they should apply to everyone else. In particular, when you’re talking about communities of color, we need the realization of our human rights, as much, if not more, as any other community. The year 2020 has served as a helpful reminder to us of that,” Sow reflected.
The events in this series were co-sponsored by the Global Health Justice and Governance Program at the Mailman School of Public Health, The Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Social Justice Initiatives, NGO CSW/NY, the Feminist and Women's Movement Action Plan, and Soroptimist, and included student moderators and organizers from the Columbia Society of International Law, the Latinx Law Students Association, Queer and Trans People of Color at CLS, the Black Law Students Association, Rightslink, and the Law Student Public Interest Network.