Young minds examine human rights issues

Posted on September 6, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Issues concerning teens run the gamut, from body self-image and daily media consumption to cyber bullying, sexual assault, and the ever-present pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. The adolescent brain, as it develops through the teenage years, presents a paradox of behavior. The downside: teens are prone to risk-taking and impulsivity. The upside: these same developing brains can lend themselves to creativity and innovation, powered by a sense of invincibility and the desire to create a better world.

Meet the 2013 Sonoma County Junior Commission on Human Rights, a group of youth aged 14-18, selected from high schools throughout the county. The project, a four-year vision of 5th District senior Human Rights Commission Chair Judy Rice, was launched last year by putting the word out to schools.

Each applicant underwent a rigorous process, answering essay questions about their interests and passions around human rights issues. Twelve commissioners were selected during interviews, and attend Elsie Allen, Piner, El Molino, Montgomery and Windsor high schools. Rice enlisted 1st District Commissioner Dmitra Smith as the Program Manager.

Monthly meetings have featured guest speakers from the Board of Supervisors, District Attorney Jill Ravitch, Santa Rosa Police Detective Chris Mahurin on the fight against human trafficking, and community organizers like Jaime Moreno of Positive Images. The junior commissioners also got an up close look at the Family Justice Center, a vital community program offering wraparound services to crime victims.

After gaining more awareness of many of the issues affecting Sonoma County, the Junior commissioners created their own Facebook page, and are launching three ad hoc committees in the areas of Women’s, Disability and LGBT Rights. They’ve set high goals for themselves, including starting school groups to create a better bridge between LBGT students and straight allies, producing a series of educational PSA’s around derogatory terms for women, and helping families with special needs children gain free access to safety kits for autism.

They’ll also be joining forces with the senior Commission by participating in its upcoming community forum on Human Trafficking on October 5th.

And at the end of the day, they are still teenagers. “I quickly realized that the best way to communicate with them was on Facebook. Before I knew it, they had started their own group and invited me to it,” laughs Commissioner Smith “They care enough to lift their heads above the sea of homework and social interaction that tends to define their world, and look to the larger issues going on around them. I’m honored to work with them and I can’t wait to see how far they can go with their ideas. It makes you feel good about the future.”

For more information please visit the Sonoma County Junior Commission on Human Rights at

Bottom row L-R: Isabella Bertucci Ruiz, Emma White, Destiny Martin, Serena Uppal(Vice Chair), Jordan Rice(Chair) Top row L-R: Casey Bauer, Hannah Selwyn, Alma Rodriguez, Marylyn Duong, Lucianna Davis. Nnot pictured: Lexi Palm, Elizabeth Cruz Reyes.)

Photo: Dmitra Smith