It was my privilege today to award the 3rd Annual Inna Meiman Human Rights Award to Katie Menke, a senior at the University of Minnesota.
I am often asked what advice I would give to students today who want to make a difference in a cause they believe in. My response is “to believe they can.” Taking on the difficult task of making change is as easy as starting there – with an individual’s determination that change can happen and belief that he or she can be an agent of that change.Each nominee for Inna’s Award this year knows this to be true. It was my privilege to consider each nomination and the decision of selecting this year’s recipient was, glady, a difficult one to make.
When I began working with Barb Frey back in late 2010 to plan an event for my book at the U, I knew it couldn’t just be me standing at a podium talking away. I didn’t want it to be a passive history lesson about a country that collapsed before college students today were born. I wanted to make my fight for Inna’s freedom and her indomitable courage and hope relevant and tangible—I wanted to make the story about now, not then; about you, not me; I wanted to pass it on. And so, I got the great idea of presenting a human rights award in Inna’s name and here we are, for the third year.
There are three criteria for the award:
1. That the student has demonstrated a personal commitment to the promotion and
protection of international human rights through significant work on a human rights cause during their time as an undergraduate;
2. That through their efforts, the student has raised the visibility of a particular human
rights issue among the University community or the broader public; and
3. That the student has made a positive difference in the life of other and given voice to those who might otherwise not be heard.
Katie Menke is the recipient of this year’s Inna Meiman Human Rights Award because she has knocked it out of the park on each one of these benchmarks. She has demonstrated her commitment to international human rights academically, as a teaching assistant for International Human Rights Law, and personally, by spending time at a home for abused and neglected girls in Ecuador, where she taught English as a second language and engaged herself in ways that created a positive environment for the girls. She volunteered locally for, “CTLU,” a Twin Cities organization dedicated to low-wage workers, and then raised public awareness to their plight when she organized a flash mob at Cub Foods and gave out information about the working conditions faced by cleaners who worked for Cubs. She also made a positive difference in the lives of many local homeless people by spreading information about free transportation provided by St. Stephan’s Outreach. When the call center became overloaded and the promoted transportation inaccessible, Katie didn’t give up, she got creative. She distributed hats, gloves and socks to homeless people and gave them something equally important, her time. Katie graduates this May and then is off to Argentina where she will work with a local human rights group.
The work that Katie has done, the work the Human Rights Program does, and any action to promote and protect human rights, is ultimately about bringing light into darkness and hope into despair, so the success is accomplished in the taking ofthe action alone.On that note, I would like to conclude with the words of Robert Kennedy, which inspired me each day of my 25 day hunger strike for Inna: “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Congratulations, Katie, and I know you will continue to spread your light in each cause to which you devote your time, effort and passion.