September 24, 2020
Advocating While Black: Navigating Black Identity in the Human Rights Field
Aspects of human rights work may present particular challenges and opportunities for practitioners of color. Human rights advocates work cross-culturally and undertake work that often requires international travel or relocation abroad. Pathways into the field are often relationship-dependent, and once in the profession, expectations about an advocate’s identity can impact relationships with peers, communities and decision-makers. How are these features experienced by those who define themselves as Black or of African descent in the human rights field? Knowledge of these experiences would add to critical debates around the practice of human rights that focus almost exclusively on Global North/Global South distinctions. Panelists will interrogate the status quo at a time when practitioners are questioning whether structures designed to promote justice could themselves contribute to systemic racism and inequality in society.
Speakers will include:
-Rosebell Kagumire, Editor, AfricanFeminism
-Godfrey Odongo, Senior Program Officer, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
-Christopher Richardson, Immigration Attorney, General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer, BDV Solutions
-Cassandre C. Théano, Assistant Director for Human Rights and Public International Law at Columbia Law School’s Office of Social Justice Initiatives.
-Moderated by: Aminta Ossom, Clinical Instructor, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School
Read their full bios below.
This event is co-sponsored by the Harvard African Law Association, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice.
Rosebell Kagumire is a feminist writer, award-winning blogger and socio-political analyst. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Quartz and Mundo Negro. She is the editor of African Feminism- AF, a platform that documents narratives and experiences of African women. Her experience spans gender and governance, peace and conflict, migration and media studies. Rosebell was honored with the 2018 Anna Guèye Award for her work on digital democracy, justice and equality by Africtivistes. The World Economic Forum recognized Rosebell as one of the Young Global Leaders under 40. She holds a Masters in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Her undergraduate degree is in Mass Communication from Makerere University, Uganda. She attended the 2019 Executive Education on Global Leadership and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She’s an editor of the recently published book: Challenging Patriarchy: The Role of Patriarchy in the Roll-back of Democracy.
Godfrey O. Odongo is a Senior Program Officer with the Human Rights Program at the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, a US-based private foundation. In this role, he manages funding portfolios dealing with support for an ecosystem of key civil society and institutions advancing human rights norms in multiple contexts. He has previously served as a regional research expert on East Africa with Amnesty International; a program advisory role with Save the Children-Sweden and a research fellow with the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights at the University of the Western Cape and the Danish Institute for Human Rights. An advocate of the High Court of Kenya he holds a doctorate in international human rights law from the University of the Western Cape, a master’s in law in human rights from the University of Pretoria, and a bachelor’s law degree from Moi University.
Christopher Richardson is an immigration attorney and former U.S. Diplomat. In addition to providing strategic corporate immigration counsel to a range of businesses and industries, he also works on pro bono immigration cases including on asylum for unaccompanied minors and advising non-profit groups and legal clinics on consular-related issues. Richardson was a Foreign Service officer for seven years, during which time he had assignments in Nigeria, Nicaragua, Pakistan, and Spain. He won numerous State Department awards including Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards. After resigning in protest against both the Travel Ban and the President’s comments regarding African countries, Richardson wrote an affidavit against the waiver process for the Travel ban, which Justice Stephen Breyer cited in his dissent in Trump v. Hawaii. He has been featured in reports by Mother Jones, Slate, Reuters, NPR, and the BBC, and has written opinion columns the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Slate Magazine and the Nation addressing immigration policy and diversity in diplomacy. Richardson serves on the Board of Directors for Upstate Forever (an environmental group) and Upstate International (both in South Carolina). He is also on the advisory board of the Center for Victims of Torture and has advised U.S. Senators and House members on a wide range of immigration issues. He is a graduate of Duke University School of Law and graduated summa cum laude from Emory University. He is also the co-author of the Historical Dictionary of the Civil Rights Movement (2014).
Cassandre C. Théano is an international human rights attorney and advocate with over a decade of experience working at the intersection of human rights, racial justice, development and philanthropy. She is the Assistant Director for Human Rights and Public International Law at Columbia Law School’s Office of Social Justice Initiatives. She also teaches the United Nations Externship at the law school and is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Recently, she served as the ABA Section of International Law Diversity and Inclusion Fellow. Previously, Cassandre was the Associate Legal Officer for Equality and Inclusion at the Open Society Foundations (The Justice Initiative), focusing on citizenship and equality. In that capacity, she led the litigation and advocacy work related to the restoration of citizenship rights for Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, Black Mauritanians in Mauritania, and various ethnic minorities in Cȏte d’Ivoire and Kenya. She was also instrumental on Temporary Protected Status advocacy and other related immigration policies affecting black migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. She regularly provides advice on strategy, policy, and funding to human rights and advocacy organizations.
Cassandre grew up in Haiti and moved to the U.S. at 16. She earned her undergraduate degree in International Relations and French Literature and her Master’s degree in French Society, Politics and Culture from New York University. She holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, with a concentration on International Human Rights Law and a certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies.