Community leaders examine human rights at SMU

human-rights-signs-of-change

The following column is from the July 12, 2016, edition of The Dallas Morning News.

By Norma Adams-Wade
The Dallas Morning News

Dallas and Fort Worth community leaders discussed what they called “dubious distinctions” about Texas human rights issues Saturday and proposed plans to improve human rights in Dallas and the state.

The discussion came during what organizers described as the first local modern-day summit designed to resolve those “most pressing” issues. More than 250 leaders participated in the summit at Southern Methodist University’s Umphrey Lee Center.

Rick Halperin directs SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, which hosted the summit. SMU is one of only seven universities in the nation — and the lone one in the South — that offer a human rights undergraduate program. He said the summit was designed to consider all participants’ views of how to create an equal society.

“The goal is to make sure that everyone in this city is afforded human dignity, respect, defense, protection and advocacy of their inherent rights,” Halperin told participants.

Problems discussed ranged from hate groups to human trafficking. High-profile police/community conflicts and fatal shootings in Dallas and across the nation were prominent talking points and inspired vigorous discussions, participants said.

The various incidents as reported by the media “awakened the soul of Dallas and America that human rights matter,” said Toya Walker, a technology company paralegal and external affairs adviser. She also said discussions about human trafficking shed light on an alarming but little-known problem in the state.

Participants addressed what organizers called these five “dubious distinctions” in Texas:

Texas leads the nation in the number of hate groups espousing sentiments that oppose either foreigners, people of other races, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. But at the same time, Texas has the nation’s largest number of resettled refugees and people seeking asylum from countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Myanmar and Congo.

Texas ranks second in the nation for human trafficking crime, which is increasing.

Texas leads the nation in exonerating people who were wrongfully convicted, while also leading the nation in state-sanctioned executions.

Texas ranks high in the number of child deaths from abuse and neglect, and leads all other states in children who die from being left in hot cars.

Texas has the nation’s highest number of residents without health care coverage.

Participants proposed using the SMU program as home base for planning future sessions and social media communication, working in neighborhoods to educate people about these issues, and having elected officials sponsor referendums to foster dialogue among diverse people.

“Dallas can be the change that the world so desperately needs,” Walker wrote in summarizing her experience at the summit.

Summit organizers will discuss the progress of Human Rights Dallas at the program’s Triumph of the Spirit awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 at Kessler Theater in Dallas. To learn more, visit www.smu.edu/humanrights, email humanrights@smu.edu, or call 214-768-8347.

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