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The Importance of Human Rights

July 11, 2024
2024 Human Rights Awards Dinner

On Wednesday, June 26th, 2024, The Advocates for Human Rights gathered with our volunteers, donors, partners, interns and staff together at the Hilton Minneapolis to recognize the work accomplished in the previous year and look forward to the next. Once again, we built an evening around celebrating extraordinary efforts by volunteers and partners in protecting and promoting dignity, justice, equality, freedom, and peace. Today, the importance of human rights is seen and felt among everyone around the world, and we recognize the continuing efforts of our friends.

The night began with our board chair, Karen Evans, acknowledging staff, volunteers, board members, and donors - both current and those who came before. This gratitude extended especially to fellow board member, Bridget Chivimbiso Chigunwe. Beginning with The Advocates as an asylum client in 2016, Bridget was granted asylum in 2022. Recently, her two children, Paula and Edwin arrived in Minnesota after eight years apart from their mother. We at The Advocates are thrilled to see this family reunited!

Karen continued her heartfelt remarks with the announcement of the retirement of Executive Director, Robin Phillips after twenty-nine years with the organization. Among them was the recognition of Robin's ability to be forward thinking, positive, and calm. Though she will no longer serve as executive director as of 2025, she will remain a part of the organization both on special projects and in her legacy.

“This room is full of the best of humanity, and I thank you for showing up for human rights tonight.” – Robin Phillips

Robin spoke to all in the room as she listed the incredible contributions of the fifteen-hundred volunteers that have been involved over the last year. She also spoke of the skill and passion the staff holds, and of the interim co-executive directors Michele Garnett McKenzie, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Rosalyn Park's ability to lead The Advocates into what comes next.

As is customary with the Human Rights Awards Dinner, a select group of individuals were recognized for their unique contributions to the organization and the human rights initiative. The 2024 awards winners are:

Sarah Stoesz, former President and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States was honored with the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award for her lifetime commitment to reproductive health and human rights. Sarah is an extraordinary example of living your values. Her courage, dedication, and years of service to women's human rights have inspired us all.

“You are the hands-on workers for human rights. You show all of us, the world, that human rights don’t exist as a force of nature, but only exist because of the actions that we take, even at the risk to our lives sometimes, and to our family’s [lives].” – Sarah Stoesz

Maureen Brown (Volunteer Award) started volunteering behind the scenes in 2021, helping with mailings. Now, Maureen volunteers at our front desk, and she is one of the first people clients may see when they arrive at our office. Maureen brings empathy, patience, and diligence to her volunteer work, and she is a friendly face that ensures that our clients know they are welcome.

Reyna Blandon Lagos (Volunteer Award) brings her whole heart and passion to her volunteer work with The Advocates. In addition to her contributions to United Nations reports and advocacy to counter restrictions on asylum, Reyna is always willing to share client-centered feedback for our project evaluations and provides logistical support for clients in the St. Cloud area.

"Well, the projects have been done with the final purpose for this to reach congress, reach the right people, to the people that have to do with asylum, the need that is latent there every day...They remain under the shadow [of fear]." - Reyna Blandon Lagos

Bill Hittler's (Volunteer Award) volunteer work has directly benefitted more than 10 clients and indirectly benefitted so many more. Bill first volunteered several years ago, representing an unaccompanied child. Since then, he has expanded his volunteer work to represent more kids and adults, including those in detention, and he also mentors other volunteer attorneys. Thanks to his hard work, one of Bill's clients is also celebrating a recent grant of asylum!

"I think my only advice, having been doing this [work] for three decades is, we just need to keep fighting, you know, and that means doing everything possible...We will get through this, and it means everyone, not just lawyers. There are so many ways to help." - Lee Gelernt

Zehra Fatima Khan (Volunteer Award) began her volunteer journey with The Advocates four years ago through monitoring remote court hearings with the WATCH court observation project. Since then, she has continued as an intern with WATCH and supported other projects on gender-based violence, including work on UN reports, consultations with youth, and interviews with anti-trafficking experts.

Whitney A. Tuthill-Preus (Volunteer Award) has been analyzing, cataloguing, and summarizing the thousands of documents, CDs, and VHS and cassette tapes in our organizational files since 2019. Whitney's volunteer contributions and experience in archival science are helping to preserve four decades of The Advocates' history.

"In a lot of cases, people's names and stories being written down on those documents, may be the last evidence that they were there; that their stories happened, that the things that were done to them happened, or the things that they did..." - Whitney A. Tuthill-Preus

Finally, the Law Firm Pro Bono Award was granted to Goodwin Procter, LLP. We are overwhelmed by the contributions that they and hundreds of their colleagues have made in preparing more than 120 pro se country conditions packets. These resources will benefit our clients from around the world!

Additionally, The Advocates brought back our 2020 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award winner, Lee Gelernt who was unable to join us in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee has been on the front lines of the fight for immigrants' human rights, arguing in the courts to overturn discriminatory and illegal policies. He has litigated the cases to overturn the administration's first travel ban, stop mass deportations of refugees, and reunite families separated at the border.

"I think my only advice, having been doing this [work] for three decades is, we just need to keep fighting, you know, and that means doing everything possible...We will get through this, and it means everyone, not just lawyers. There are so many ways to help." - Lee Gelernt

As the presentation ended, our board member, Bridget Chivimbiso Chigunwe reminded us of the importance of donating both our time and financial resources. Through your donations, we have been able to raise more than $374K from the Human Rights Awards Dinner! If you would like to contribute, please click the link here.

Thank you for your continued support and amazing spirit!

The Advocates for Human Rights