by Daniel Krieger
During the summer, I had the opportunity to attend the Summer Institute of Buffalo for Human Rights and Genocide Studies. This was a week-long class where I and around 80 other students were able to hear from famous people in the civil rights community, such as Allida Black, as well as some local heroes, such as Williamsville East’s own Dr. Redmond and Nada Odeh, a new American from Syria and a local artist.
One of the new events that students were able to participate in was a field trip to the Underground Railroad Museum, a church that was part of the Underground Railroad and the opportunity to meet a Harriet Tubman impersonator. Meeting her was one of the more memorable parts of the program.
Jaiha Lee, a senior, said, “Her portrayal of Harriet Tubman was really captivating and I learned a lot of things about her that I didn’t know before. It was different to hear about her than to read about her. It was really inspiring to see her humanized rather than a character in a book.”
Another fantastic speaker was Allida Black. This Harry Potter fanatic and human rights activist came to the Institute to present on the human rights story of Harry Potter. She argued that the popular fiction
series Harry Potter included elements from the Declaration of Human Rights and encouraged students to form their own Dumbledore’s Army.
She pointed out that the youth is pivotal in creating change and that it is necessary for them to band together to ensure that the Voldemorts of the world are unsuccessful in their in humanitarian pursuits.
“She was my favorite speaker at the Human Rights Institute,” Lee said. “Because Harry Potter is such a fundamental part of my life, her perspective really opened my eyes to see how easy it is to get involved. I also felt empowered as a teenager because oftentimes we are silenced.”
Odeh, the artist from Syria, showed us some of her work, such as her series called Royalty Refugees. This collection of artworks depict different scenes of people in refugee camps in an elevated position. She also gave us the opportunity to try our own hand at making artwork significant to our personal cultures. Some student works showed different images, such as family crests or items significant to one’s family.
Students enjoyed this event as they learned about yet another way they can influence the world around them for the better and how to sympathize with the other students around them.
Usually, the Summer Institute brings in Holocaust survivor Joe Diamond to speak about his harrowing experiences. Unfortunately, Diamond passed away. His daughter, however, was willing to take up his torch, continue his legacy, and ensure his story is not forgotten.
During a seminar in which a few of the students were selected to speak on behalf of their peers to the parents, many vocalized their appreciation of Diamond’s daughter speaking of how inspiring they found his story. What stuck out to many was the accordion he bought with all his money before leaving for the US.
The family still has it, and she was able to show it to us. She also told the story he would tell, where when he arrived in the United States, the border control asked him to play something to prove he had not stolen the instrument. To their amazement, Diamond was able to perform beautifully, even though he had never played the instrument prior.
Many of the students were very inspired by the experiences they gained from this short week. Multiple East students were lucky enough to attend, such as myself, Anna Lin, Nina Coscia and Jaiha Lee. Three of us are planning on revising the current health curriculum to include more information about LGBT+ people and relationships, heavily revamp the sex education, and include more about consent.