Sunday, December 13, 2015

Photos from the Program

While there are champions like these among us, the human 
rights of our people in Oklahoma will never be denied. We 
were pleased to join the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights 
Alliance in honoring more than 30 human rights heroes 
at the State Capitol on Thursday, December 10th.

The program opened with a ceremonial invocation led by Albert Gray Eagle.

"We The People Oklahoma" were honored for their efforts to call attention to
police violence as well as misconduct in the office of the Tulsa County Sheriff.

John Pettyjohn introduced himself as the son of an undocumented immigrant. A proud Marine (retired), Mr. Pettyjohn described his volunteer work in support of his fellow veterans -- including serving on a suicide intervention team.

Father Paul Zahler, OSB, PhD, presided over the Human Rights Day program. Father Paul is the founder / director of the National Institute on Developmental Delays at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee.

Our award winners are from all over the state of Oklahoma -- Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Norman, Yukon, Grove, Henryetta, Chickasha, McLoud. They represent the diversity of our great state. 

Sarah Adams-Cornell was honored for her efforts and the efforts of other Native American leaders to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. 

When Isaac Caviness spoke to the audience about his efforts to petition for change in Oklahoma's drug laws, supporters in the gallery raised a banner in support of their initiative. 

Tina Peña is a host of “Temas en Tulsa,” a television program that covers current events and crucial topics of importance to Spanish speaking and English speaking viewers. She was honored at our program. She is shown here sitting in the audience with her father, an immigrant from Peru.

Members of the Gallegos Family received an award given in memory of
their husband and father, Sergio Gallegos. On Facebook, a reader who
attended the Human Rights Day Awards program wrote: "I was particularly
moved by the work of indigenous peoples in Oklahoma and the immigrants
who came to the U.S. with nothing but hope, and have managed to educate
their children and then turn to help others. One family whose parents came
from Mexico with seven children now have seven kids with Associate's Degrees,
five with Bachelor's degrees, two with Master's, and one Juris Doctorate.
Over and over again, we heard how people from Mexico, Peru, India, and other
parts of the globe came here seeking a future for themselves and their children,
and worked hard to achieve that -- and then became citizens, humanitarians
and advocates who make our state and nation better by being here."

See More Photos taken by the Legislative Photographer:


The Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance gratefully acknowledges the contributions of our supporters and co-sponsors, including:

The Oklahoma City chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA
Dedicated to informing, inspiring, and mobilizing the American people to support the ideals and vital work of the United Nations 

Santa Maria Virgen Episcopal Church
Oklahoma City

Following the program at the State Capitiol, participants
enjoyed a delicious lunch at Santa Maria Virgen Episcopal
Church. (Photo courtesy: Otilia Fuentes)
P.E.O.P.L.E. Foundation, Inc.
Oklahoma City

La Oaxaca Bakery
1117 SW 59th Street
Oklahoma City

La Oaxaqueña Panaderia
741 SW 29th Street
Oklahoma City

Cocina De Mino Mexican Restaurant
Oklahoma City

Representative Richard Morrissette
District 92 - Oklahoma City

Saturday, December 12, 2015

All Can Do Something

Comments Delivered by
Rabbi Vered L. Harris, RJE,
on the Occasion of Human Rights Day
at the Oklahoma State Capitol, Oklahoma City

On December 10th, we were proud to honor some of the everyday human rights heroes who walk among us in Oklahoma. One of the recipients was Rabbi Vered L. Harris, RJE of Temple B'nai Israel. We thank her for her continuing human rights work in the state of Oklahoma. Her comments captured the essence of Human Rights, and we would like to share them with you.

I am the rabbi, or spiritual leader, at Temple B'nai Israel. Founded in 1903, we are proud to be the longest operating Jewish house of worship in Oklahoma. Thank you Wilfredo Santos-Rivera and the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance for honoring Temple B'nai Israel and me with this award.

Today is the 4th day of the holiday of Hanukkah. During this Festival of Lights Jews remember a time when our ancestors were persecuted for refusing to give up our heritage and assimilate into the larger society. Our own experiences over the past 4,000 years demand we be sensitive to the plights of others.

Over 2,000 years ago the Jewish sage Hillel used to say: (Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 2:5*)

"...a boor cannot fear sin,"

Because he is so wrapped up in only himself he doesn't notice how his actions ripple out and can hurt others,

"nor can an unlearned person be pious."

Because attainment of religious heights requires deep, thoughtful study

"A bashful person cannot learn,"

Because asking questions and speaking up are imperative to true learning,

"nor can an impatient one teach." 

Because to affect others we must be patient with their journeys and overcoming their, as well as our own, ignorance.

An artist's depiction of Hillel the Elder
Hillel continued: "Those who are occupied excessively with business will not become wise."

Because wisdom involves knowing the intimacies and the breadth of the human condition,

And finally:

"In a place where there [is no humanity], endeavor to be [humane]."

How sad that there are many media reports today that show us lots of humans, but not a lot of humanity. What an opportunity for each of us to step up and fulfill Hillel's challenge!

This means we must condemn and fight and support solutions for libelous words against Muslims, discrimination against African-Americans and Blacks, inadequate educational opportunities for those in poverty, food insecurity and hunger, homelessness, disregard for indigenous cultures, insufficient medical care, violence against women, senseless shootings... Don't let our limited time limit your list.

Also in ancient Jewish texts we are told: it is not your duty to complete the work of making this world better, but neither are you free to desist from it (Pirkei Avot 2:16*). None can do everything, but all can do something.

May the accomplishments of the individuals in this room collectively inspire our legislators and civic leaders to consult the spirit and the letter of the Declaration of Human Rights. May we see the day when, as the prayerbook in my tradition says, "we are loved, each of us, for no other reason save we are human." And may we each approach our neighbors with that same intent of making their world better, because, surely, this is how we fulfill the highest purpose of our humanity.

*  The citation in Pirkei Avot may differ according to which publication of the Mishnah one is using.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Our 2015 Human Rights Award Winners

We recognize some of the many human rights heroes who live among us.

There is plenty of evidence that human rights are under attack where we live. All you have to do is turn on the television news. Fear, bigotry, and hatred are a volatile mixture. We worry about the future of our nation.

Yet, there is other evidence to examine -- hopeful signs that human rights are alive and well. Right here in Oklahoma, we see that the dignity of the individual person is being honored. Religious freedom is being protected. The rights of all people are being defended. We are building communities where every man, woman, and child may find equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity without discrimination.

Where is our evidence?

We find it in the people of our great state. In every corner of Oklahoma -- in places close to home, in the world of the individual person -- we recognize the human rights heroes who live among us. They are the champions of human rights where we live.

They defend the weak. They teach justice. They inspire us by their example to recognize our own rights and to uphold the rights of others.

These are our Oklahoma Human Rights Award Winners for 2015:

(Click on the name to read more about them) 

Sarah Adams-Cornell

The Aldridge Foundation

Bishop Edward Konieczny

Isaac Caviness

Jimmy Curry

Hilda De Leon Xavier

Eldon Ray Diaz-Henderson

Carl Downing

Jack Farley

Sundra Flansburg

The Sergio Gallegos Family

Gonzalo Guaman

Rabbi Vered Harris

Debbie Hogue-Downing

Juan Iglesias

Fundacion Iris Violeta

Linda James

Marq Lewis and “We The People Oklahoma”

Silvia Martinez Garcia

Jeanne Mather

Tim O'Connor

OU Unheard

Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton

Tina Peña

John Pettyjohn

Lynda K. Powell and the Bethel Foundation

Lynn Schusterman

John Wesley Stillsmoking (deceased)

Drs. P.T. and Julia Teska

Kendall Wayne Vowell

Lawrence Brewer Wahpepah (deceased)

World Experiences Foundation

Stacey Wright

The Oklahoma City chapter of the United Nations Association joins the members of the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance in recognizing the contributions and the inspiring examples of these award winners.

This year, once again, the awards program will take place in the chamber of the State House of Representatives:

Thursday, December 10th -- 10am to 12 Noon
State House of Representatives
Oklahoma Capitol 
2300 N Lincoln Blvd 
Oklahoma City, OK   73105

We hope you will plan to be in attendance.

Human Rights Day is celebrated around the world on December 10th. It is the anniversary of the day in 1948 when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Where Do Human Rights Begin?

Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Eldon Ray Diaz-Henderson

Lexington (Joseph Harp Correctional Center)

Nominated by Fr. Paul Zahler, O.S.B., Ph.D. 

In 1958, Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the United Nations. Speaking on the topic of human rights, she said:

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." 
(Eleanor Roosevelt, “The Great Question,” remarks delivered at the United Nations in New York on March 27, 1958)

Fifty-seven years later, Mrs. Roosevelt's words continue to have meaning. She reminds us that human rights exist everywhere, for everyone. They don't cease to matter simply because we live in an out-of-the-way place. Our human dignity -- and our potential to uphold the personal rights and dignity of others -- continues to have significance no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

Eldon Ray Diaz-Henderson resides at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center. He is a prisoner of the State of Oklahoma.

Eldon participates in a program for inmates with learning disabilities. It is called the Total Family Development Daily Living Program. The program was launched with indispensable assistance from the Oklahoma Benedictine Institute on the campus of St. Gregory's University in Shawnee.

As a result of participating in the Total Family Development Program, Eldon has seen changes in himself. He lists them: Needing to Work on My Self Image; Learning to Socialize; Openness; Honesty; Trust; Handling Painful Relationships; and Discovering Worthiness.

Eldon is being recognized with the 2015 Oklahoma Human Rights Award because he reminds us that human rights exist everywhere, for everyone. He reminds us that, because we have reason and conscience, we should act towards one another in a spirit of respectful solidarity.

On December 10th, the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance will honor human rights heroes from around our great state. A recognition program will take place at the State Capitol. Among those to be recognized will be Eldon Ray Diaz-Henderson and Kendall Wayne Vowell. More information about the program can be found here: "Celebrate Human Rights."

For more about Kendall Wayne Vowell, see the article HERE.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
--Article 1 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton

A Constant Champion of Human Rights

Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton
Oklahoma City
Nominated by Tom Guild

Mrs. Stapleton (Peltier while serving in the Oklahoma Legislature) was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1986 and served through 1996. She represented House District 93 in Oklahoma City.

Wanda Jo holds a bachelor of arts from Oklahoma Baptist University in English that she earned in 1963. She received her master's in English from the University of Kansas in 1965.

Prior to running for elected office, she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment and helped organize the Oklahoma Women’s Political Caucus of which she served as chair 1980-1984. Peltier has published three books and has served a term as president of the Commission on the Status of Women. She is the mother of two children.

In 2007, Wanda Jo was interviewed for an Oral History Project on women of the Oklahoma Legislature. Here is a revealing excerpt illustrating Wanda Jo's early interest in politics (before she thought about running for a public office):

Interviewer: How early did you get interested in politics? 
Wanda Jo: Well, it was in the 1970’s when my husband and I lived on a farm near Macomb, Oklahoma. That’s when I learned from the League of Women Voters that there were some laws on the books that seriously affected women in my situation -- that is, women working with their husbands in small businesses or in farming operations.
They told me that one of the laws said the husband is the head of the family. He can choose the place and the mode of residence and the wife will conform.

A second one was that Oklahoma is a separate property state as opposed to a community property state. In a community property state, the wife has the legal right to half of the property acquired during the marriage. But in a separate property state, the property belongs to the person who earned the money to buy it, and since the husband was the head of the household, that’s the automatic assumption that the husband owns the property.  
So I got to thinking, “Well, if I died first, this property would belong to my husband free and clear with no questions asked, and if he died first, I would have to prove money or money’s worth to own my very own property.” So that’s when we got a will, and it’s a good thing we did because a few years later, he died of cancer and I would have been in a real mess without that will because of the laws on the Oklahoma books. 
About that time, the Equal Rights Amendment was beginning to come up before the Oklahoma Legislature, and I thought “Now that’s what we need.” So I went with a group of women over to the Capitol to speak and to lobby for the Equal Rights Amendment, and we were so naïve. We thought if we looked good, if we smelled good, if we made sense, it was a done deal. 
Well, about all we got at first were pats on the head -- that is, until we organized. But that’s another story.

For being a constant champion of women's rights and the rights of ordinary people everywhere, Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton is nominated for his year's Human Rights Award.

On December 10th, the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance will honor human rights heroes from around our great state. A recognition program will take place at the State Capitol. Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton will be among those to be recognized. More information about the program can be found here: "Celebrate Human Rights."

"The peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women...." 
--From the Preamble to the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Labor Leaders

Jimmy Curry and Tim O'Connor

Oklahoma City

Nominated by Wilfredo Santos-Rivera

Each year on Dec. 10, the global community marks International Human Rights Day, anchored in one of the founding documents of the United Nations, which asserts that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt
That founding document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also lists “the right to form and to join trade unions” as a basic tenet of human freedom. For many workers around the world, the right to form unions is essential for ensuring the safe working conditions and living wages that are fundamental to human rights.

One of the prime movers behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was Eleanor Roosevelt. The widow of President Franklin Roosevelt, she pressed the United States to join and support the United Nations and became one of its first delegates. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addition to being a world figure and diplomat, Eleanor Roosevelt was a union member. As a newspaper columnist, she joined The Newspaper Guild, AFL-CIO. She remained a member for over 25 years. She was a keynote speaker when the AFL-CIO merged into a united organization.

Biographers of Mrs. Roosevelt have noted that her commitment to labor unions stayed with her to the end. Her union card was in her wallet when she died.

On our UNA-OKC website, we observe: "In many ways, the UN and the labor movement are each a product of the same social and historical experiences. In some respects, they grew up together."

Jimmy Curry
It is natural, therefore, that we should honor two labor leaders from our state who exemplify the support that the labor movement has given to the promotion of human rights over many decades.

Jimmy Curry is the president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO. A graduate of Spartan School of Aeronautics, he worked for nearly 20 years in our state's aeronautics industry before going to work for the AFL-CIO in 1997. In addition to his work for the union, Mr. Curry gives generously to the community. For example, he serves on the board for the United Way of Central Oklahoma. He has served on the advisory board for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. He is a winner of the Meritorious Service Award from the Professional Fire Fighters of Oklahoma.

Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor is the president of the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. The federation represents 54 local union affiliates in 7 counties in Central Oklahoma. In all, the Federation represents over 16,000 members.

Last year, the Federation filed a petition in Oklahoma City to let voters decide if the minimum wage should be raised from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Before a vote could be taken, though, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill prohibiting cities across the state from establishing local laws on the topic of wages and employee benefits.

The Federation is focused on public policy issues such as raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, the expansion of Medicaid in Oklahoma, and other issues of social justice that affect working families. They often partner with faith-based and community organizations to pursue these objectives.

On December 10th, the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance will honor human rights heroes from around our great state. A recognition program will take place at the State Capitol. Jimmy Curry and Tim O'Connor will be among those to be recognized. More information about the program can be found here: "Celebrate Human Rights."

"(1)  Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

"(2)  Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

"(3)  Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

"(4)  Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

--Article 23 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Kendall Wayne Vowell

Kendall Wayne Vowell
Lexington (Joseph Harp Correctional Center)
Nominated by Fr. Paul Zahler, O.S.B., Ph.D. 

In 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on "Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners." The 1990 resolution expanded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clarifying the values of our global civil society.

The principles for the treatment of prisoners include:

  • "All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings."
  • "Except for those limitations that are demonstrably necessitated by the fact of incarceration, all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...." 
  • "All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality." 

Kendall Wayne Vowell is an inmate at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.

He was nominated for the 2015 Human Rights Award because of his participation in a personal development program for inmates with developmental disabilities. For the last 29 years, Kendall has been a model student in the program called, the Total Family Development Program.

Currently, there are approximately 1 billion persons living
with disabilities in the world, or 15 per cent of the global
population. In both developed and developing countries,
persons with disabilities are often negatively stereotyped
and are often labelled by their disability or condition – visible
or not. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
prepares the way to change perceptions of
persons with disabilities and promote their abilities as
full and equal participants in the societies in which they live. 
The program was originally started by Kendall and his parents. When it began, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not have a rehabilitation program of this kind.

The program is an outgrowth of the Family Living Center on the campus of St. Gregory's University in Shawnee. In order to get the program started, Kendall's parents -- Don and Joann Vowell -- attended classes at St. Gregory's to learn about developmental disabilities in children and adults.

Writing about the program shortly after it was launched in 1987, Kendall Wayne Vowell wrote:

"I have done everything in my power to get this program started. Father Paul Zahler, my parents, and I feel that  this will be a successful and worthwhile program to inspire rehabilitation. I am trying hard to rehabilitate myself."

"I am going to help myself, and others if possible, because I'm tired of being used."

Father Paul Zahler writes about Kendall Wayne Vowell:

"Every human being has the universal right to feel as a worthwhile person," and "Every human being has a developmental right to be part of all humanity." Kendall feels very strongly about the above statements. 
Kendall Vowell dedicated himself to building and promoting the Total Family Development Program -- a special initiative designed for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections system -- not only for himself, but for all men and women with developmental disabilities. He was the role model for the program. 
Kendall proves that the Total Family Development Program is a successful and worthwhile program for inspiring individuals with developmental disabilities in the Oklahoma Correctional system, to rehabilitate them back into society. 

The Arc, a national advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, reports that, "Individuals with with this disability... constitute a small, but nonetheless growing percentage of suspects / offenders within the criminal justice system. While those with intellectual disability comprise 2% to 3% of the general population, they represent 4% to 10% of the prison population, with an even greater number of those in juvenile facilities and in jails."

According to The Arc: "Some people with intellectual disability commit crimes, not because they have below-average intelligence, but because of their unique personal experiences, environmental influences and individual differences."

"As suspects, individuals with this disability are frequently used by other criminals to assist in law-breaking activities without understanding their involvement in a crime or the consequences of their involvement. They may also have a strong need to be accepted and may agree to help with criminal activities in order to gain friendship. Many individuals unintentionally give misunderstood responses to officers, which increase their vulnerability to arrest, incarceration and possibly execution, even if they committed no crime."

The vulnerability of this population makes it even more essential to ensure that their human rights are understood and respected. By being a leader in the Total Family Development Program, Kendall Wayne Vowell is contributing to human rights in our state. He is inspiring his fellow prisoners to understand and embrace their inherent dignity and value as human beings.

On December 10th, the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance will honor human rights heroes from around our great state. A recognition program will take place at the State Capitol. Among those to be recognized will be Kendall Wayne Vowell. More information about the program can be found here: "Celebrate Human Rights."

"Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense."
--Article 11 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights