The United Nations Association of Greater Detroit (UNA) is one of 200 chapters of the United Nations Association of the United States, a community based organization aimed to educate American citizens about the principles and important work of the United Nations. In fact, the United Nations Association has chapters across the world and its goal is to ensure the global community is not only educated about the UN, but active from a community level as well.
I am so honored to be the Board Secretary for the Greater Detroit chapter. Since I am new to the board, I am really thankful that my fellow board members allowed me the space to take on the lead organizer role for our NGO Meet & Greet. I am passionate about bringing people together and I am happy to have had the chance to bring together metro Detroit's citizens and community organizations working to ensure the dignity and human rights for all.
Affirmations buzzed with excitement as people from metro Detroit's community organizations began to gather in the community room for our Meet & Greet. We had more than fifty people in attendance mixing and mingling over fresh fruit, vegetables, water, and other snacks and refreshments. At one point we nearly ran out of chairs to accommodate the amount of people in attendance.
Our UNA of Greater Detroit Board President David Sloan did a wonderful introduction to the audience about the work of the United Nations and our UNA chapter. He also gave a great presentation about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a very important UN Agency working in many countries around the world to protect refugees and internally displaced people. David spoke about UNHCR's most recent concerns about the safety and well being of Syrian refugees fleeing to neighboring countries and African migrants traveling on the high seas desparately trying to reach safety within Europe's borders.
Next, I had the opportunity to introduce our guest speaker, Mary Lane, of Global Detroit and Welcome Mat Detroit. Mary spoke to the audience about how Welcome Mat Detroit works hard to connect the immigrant and refugee community to resources and services in metro Detroit. Her presentation was a great way for the organizations represented in the room to become potentially more connected with metro Detroit’s immigrant and refugee community.
Finally, one of the most powerful components of our Meet & Greet was the opportunity to hear directly from the audience. I facilitated a discussion with the audience where I asked for people to stand up and proudly state who they were and the organization they represented. Hands went up and one by one people stood up and spoke about their organization and the work they do in metro Detroit. We heard from organizations such as the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Focus Hope, Hush House Detroit, Habitat For Humanity, Take On Hate, Results, and several individual community members. We answered specific questions from the audience about our UNA Detroit chapter and how everyone can be involved in our work. Specifically, the organizations in the room were interesred how the work of the United Nations and our UNA chapter was relevant to issues impacting metro Detroit citizens and their work in particular.
I thought this was an excellent question and I briefly explained to the audience the United Nations Treaty Committee process. This process requires the United States to perioidically send reports and appear before treaty bodies to detail whether we are compliant within certain international human rights treaty laws. I explained that this process allows for civil society to submit what is called “Shadow Reports” to include details about how certain U.S. laws and policies impact communities here at home. It is an opportunity for the expert treaty body to hear from community members in addition to the American government. I explained to the audience that submitting a Shadow Report is an important and effective way for metro Detroit organizations to be involved in the United Nations treaty body process. It is my hope that our UNA chapter can work together to further educate local organization about this process.
Finally, I spoke about how the United Nations Associations across the world were called on by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to get feedback from world citizens on the Sustainable Development Goals (post Millennium Development Goals). In 2013-2014, the Secretary General asked the global community through the United Nations Associations and social media to tell the United Nations what issues matter in local communities. In late 2014, the Secretary General published his gatherings for the UN Member States to consider in creating the Sustainable Development Goals. I spoke about this process at our Meet & Greet to highlight how important our voices are from an international perspective. There were other members of the audience familiar with this process and offered their insight as well.
In all, I believe that our Meet & Greet was a huge success and I expect many partnerships to develop as a result. Our UNA chapter intends to continue to build relationships with each of the organizations in attendance with the hope of creating a stronger connection between our local and international work. We have plans for future events in metro Detroit. Our largest annual event will be on United Nations Day, Saturday, October 24, 2015. We are celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations. It will be a big day in Detroit and the world.
“Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, closes to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map 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 concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Remarks at the United Nations, March 27, 1958