A recent Kean University conference, Ending Legal Injustices through Art and Activism, used art to explore human rights violations that are legal in the United States and around the world.
The exhibition at the Human Rights Institute Gallery at Kean University, The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions, served as a foundation for the conference. The speakers included New Jersey State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak and other change makers from local and national organizations.
Lesniak opened the forum, held on Monday, December 5, with a history lesson, describing how Jews fleeing the Third Reich in 1939 were denied entry to Cuba and the United States due to fears over communism and competition for scarce jobs. He then drew a parallel to the current Syrian refugee crisis.
“America is great, but it wasn't great when these Jewish refugees were turned away from our borders, just as America will not be great if we don't remember the past and do not accept, as other countries are accepting, our share of the current refugee crises.”
Sponsored by the Kean University Human Rights Institute, the program featured speakers who shared the stories of men, women and children who endured violence, intimidation and fear. They also offered solutions for healing and preventing future human rights atrocities.
“It takes so much courage to speak and share their horrible stories,” said Zainab Zeb Khan, chair of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance who recounted narratives of women who were victims of child marriage, female genital mutilation and human trafficking.
“Personal narratives or stories are very powerful learning tools,” said Janice Kroposky, director of the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University. “They can be used to educate, break-down barriers, debunk stereotypes and promote understanding. All of the speakers shared stories of individuals who have endured grave injustices, the very injustices that are reflected in the pieces on exhibition in the Human Rights Institute art gallery on campus.”
Many in attendance at the conference agreed that education is the sustainable solution.
“No matter where their home may be, most children have a thirst for knowledge, not blood. And no matter what they face, education will be something that can never be taken away from them,” said Heather Mistretta, a writer in Kean’s Division of Enrollment Management and president of Women & Girls Education (WAGE) International. “Education not only provides them with the knowledge they need and crave, it also gives them the structure and tools needed to be empowered to overcome their insurmountable challenges and not be victims.”