Human Rights Sessions Focus on U.S. Social Justice

  • Past human rights discussions have focused on (clockwise from top left) blues as music of resistance, social activist Chelsey Richardson, artist Joseph Guay, and the 2020 March on Washington.

Next event: Supporting Human Rights and Confronting Violence with Poetry and Music,
Thursday, Feb. 3 at 1 p.m. EST

Josh Griffin, a young consultant in the Carter Center’s Human Rights Program, participated in the 2020 March on Washington for racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Standing at the foot of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Griffin heard inspiring words from several speakers, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s son Martin III and 12-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King.

“That’s when I knew I had to fight this good fight and get in good trouble,” said Griffin, using a phrase made famous by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who had died just weeks earlier.

“You know, John Lewis was only 23 when he spoke [at the March on Washington] in 1963,” said Zach Schreiner, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and current social activist. “You come to the realization that it doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are or what your level of education is, or anything like that.… Inaction at a time of injustice is [complicity with] that violence.”

Schreiner and Griffin were discussing the power of “peaceable assembly” as part of a series of Carter Center roundtables on social justice in the United States. “The Carter Center has always had an international focus,” said Karin Ryan, the Center’s senior advisor for human rights.

“But in the last couple of years, we’ve seen a need to address issues in our own country as well. We can’t ignore inequities and human rights abuses here in America even as we work abroad.”

Many of the online roundtables, which take place on, highlight using the arts to promote social justice.

Past discussions have featured photographers, visual artists, and poets. The most recent roundtable brought together musicians for a look at “The Blues and Resistance: The Music of Struggle from the U.S. to Palestine.”

The session began with a blues song featuring traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation. The song’s musical collaborators then spoke about how the blues’ origins can be traced to Africans brought to the U.S. as slaves and about how protesters here and in Palestine have used singing and dancing to keep up their spirits and indicate their refusal to back down.

Music can connect people to the experiences and emotions of others. It can be educational without seeming preachy.

“Obviously, music isn’t going to change the power system,” said Ryan, “but maybe it will make us be more human with each other.”

For this reason, The Carter Center plans to continue the social justice through the arts series.

“I think the human rights world needs to do more with the arts,” Ryan said. “When we experience art together, something shifts, and we see our common humanity.”

Related Resources

To view past roundtable discussions, visit our Forum.

Learn more about the Center's Human Rights Program »

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