|Shepard Academy Junior Block Spring||
César Chávez (1927–1993)
Mexican-American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez brought about better conditions for agricultural workers by his actions. Born on his family’s farm near Yuma, Arizona, Chávez witnessed the harsh conditions farm laborers endured. Workers were routinely exploited by their employers, often unpaid, living in shacks in exchange for their labor, and with no medical or other basic facilities. Without a united voice, they had no means to improve their position. Chávez changed that when he dedicated his life to winning recognition of the rights of agricultural workers, inspiring and organizing them into the National Farm Workers Association which later became the United Farm Workers. Through marches, strikes and boycotts, Chávez forced employers to pay adequate wages and provide other benefits and was responsible for legislation enacting the first Bill of Rights for agricultural workers. For his commitment to social justice and his lifelong dedication to bettering the lives of his fellow men and women, Chávez was posthumously recognized with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
Noun: A person noted for feats of
courage or nobility of purpose,
especially one who has risked
or sacrificed his or her life
A person who is admired for
having done something very
brave or having achieved
Noun: A person who has defeated all
An ardent defender or
supporter of a cause or
One who does battle for
Daw Aung Saw Suu Kyi
DAW Aung San Suu Kyi (born 1945)
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been a major voice for human rights and freedom in Burma (Myanmar), a country dominated by a military government since 1962. Born in Rangoon and studying at Oxford University, she became politically active in 1988 when the Burmese junta violently suppressed a mass uprising, killing thousands of civilians. Suu Kyi wrote an open letter to the government asking for the formation of an independent committee to hold democratic elections. Defying a government ban on political gatherings of more than four persons, Suu Kyi spoke to large audiences throughout Burma as Secretary-General of the newly formed National League for Democracy (NLD). In 1989 she was placed under house arrest. Despite her detention, the NLD won the election with 82 percent of the parliamentary seats, but the military dictatorship refused to recognize the results. Suu Kyi has remained in prison almost continuously since that time, rejecting the government’s offer of freedom as it would require her to leave Burma. In 2003, she was moved from prison and again placed under house arrest, which has been repeatedly and illegally extended by the junta. She remains a living expression of her people’s determination to gain political and economic freedoms. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, Suu Kyi has called on citizens around the world to “use your liberty to promote ours.”
“I think by now I have made it fairly clear that I am not very happy with the word ‘hope.’ I don’t believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968)
Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the twentieth century’s best-known advocates for nonviolent social change. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, King’s exceptional oratorical skills and personal courage first attracted national attention in 1955 when he and other civil rights activists were arrested after leading a boycott of a Montgomery, Alabama, transportation company for requiring that nonwhites surrender their seats to whites and stand or sit at the back of the bus. Over the next decade, King wrote, spoke and organized nonviolent protests and mass demonstrations to draw attention to racial discrimination and to demand civil rights legislation to protect the rights of African-Americans. In 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, King guided peaceful mass demonstrations that the white police force countered with police dogs and fire hoses, creating a controversy that generated newspaper headlines around the world. Subsequent mass demonstrations in many communities culminated in a march that attracted more than 250,000 protestors to Washington, DC, where King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in which he envisioned a world in which people were no longer divided by race. So powerful was the movement King inspired, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the same year he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. Posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, King is an icon of the civil rights movement. His life and work symbolize the quest for equality and nondiscrimination that lies at the heart of the American—and human—dream.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Oscar Arias Sanchez
Oscar Arias Sánchez (Born 1940)
Oscar Arias Sánchez won the respect of leaders and humanitarians everywhere for bringing peace to Central America. Born in 1940, he studied in the United States and then earned a law degree in Costa Rica.
Elected president of Costa Rica in 1986, Arias Sánchez immediately put the world on notice that he intended to restore peace in Central America by disentangling the region from the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. In a series of meetings with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, Arias Sánchez pressed to resolve the turmoil and end outside influence in Central America. He eventually gained approval of his peace plan, which called for each country to limit the size of their armies, assure freedom of the press, and hold free and open elections. The plan was successful and, with the signing of the accords, fighting in the region came to an end.
In 1987, President Oscar Arias Sánchez received the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing peace to the region and used the monetary award to establish the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. During his presidency, he frequently ventured into the public without entourage or fanfare to listen to the concerns of the citizenry. After the conclusion of his first term in office, he continued to be a “man of the people,” promoting human security and development on many fronts. In 2006, he was again elected president of Costa Rica and today continues to champion peace and human rights.
“The more freedom we enjoy, the greater the responsibility we bear, toward others as well as ourselves.”
Oscar Arias Sánchez
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962)
As chair and most influential member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Eleanor Roosevelt was the driving force in creating the 1948 charter of liberties that will always be her legacy: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Born in New York City, Eleanor married rising politician Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1905 and became fully immersed in public service. By the time they arrived in the White House in 1933 as President and First Lady, she was already deeply involved in human rights and social justice issues. Continuing her work on behalf of all people, she advocated equal rights for African-Americans, Depression-era workers and women, bringing inspiration and attention to their causes. Courageously outspoken, she publicly supported Marian Anderson when in 1939 the black singer was denied the use of Washington’s Constitution Hall because of her race. Roosevelt saw to it that Anderson performed instead on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, creating an enduring and inspiring image of personal courage and human rights.
In 1946, Roosevelt was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations by President Harry Truman who had succeeded to the White House after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. As head of the Human Rights Commission, she was instrumental in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she submitted to the United Nations General Assembly with these words:
“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.”
Called “First Lady of the World” by President Truman for her lifelong humanitarian achievements, Roosevelt worked to the end of her life to gain acceptance and implementation of the rights set forth in the Declaration. The legacy of her words and her work appears in the constitutions of scores of nations and in an evolving body of international law that now protects the rights of men and women across the world.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is widely recognized as one of the twentieth century’s greatest political and spiritual leaders. Honored in India as the father of the nation, he pioneered and practiced the principle of Satyagraha— resistance to tyranny through mass nonviolent civil disobedience. While leading nationwide campaigns to ease poverty, expand women’s rights, build religious and ethnic harmony and eliminate the injustices of the caste system, Gandhi supremely applied the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience to free India from foreign domination. He was often imprisoned for his actions, sometimes for years, but he accomplished his aim in 1947 when India gained its independence from Britain. Because of his stature, he is referred to as Mahatma, which means “great soul.” World civil rights leaders from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Nelson Mandela have credited Gandhi as a source of inspiration in their struggles to achieve equal rights for
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.”
Nelson Mandela (Born 1918)
Nelson Mandela, one of the most recognizable human rights symbols of the age, is a man whose dedication to the liberties of his people inspires human rights advocates throughout the world. Born in Transkei, South Africa, son of a tribal chief, Mandela received a university degree and law degree. In 1944, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and actively worked to abolish the apartheid policies of the ruling National Party. On trial for his actions, Mandela declared, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Sentenced to life imprisonment, Mandela became a powerful symbol of resistance for the rising anti-apartheid movement, repeatedly refusing to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom. Finally released in February 1990, he intensified the battle against oppression to attain the goals he and others had set almost four decades earlier. In May 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president, a position he held until 1999. He presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation. A worldwide celebration of his life and rededication to his goals of freedom and equality took place on his 90th birthday in 2008.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Muhammad Yunus (Born 1940)
Economist and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus has become internationally renowned for his revolutionary system of micro-credit—the extension of small loans to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans—that has helped millions to escape poverty.
Born in 1940 in the seaport city of Chittagong, Bangladesh, Yunus’ life is motivated by his vision of a world without poverty. It began in 1976 when he saw village basket weavers living in abject poverty despite their skill. Considered poor credit risks, the artisans were forced to borrow money at high interest rates to purchase bamboo and made no profit after repaying moneylenders. From his own pocket, Yunus made a loan of $27 to a group of women who repaid the funds and, for the first time, made a small profit. Yunus realized that by means of tiny loans and financial services, he could help the poor free themselves from poverty.
In 1983 he established the Grameen Bank (Village Bank), founded on his conviction that credit is a fundamental human right. In a quarter of a century, the bank has stood as the flagship of a 100-country network of similar institutions enabling millions to escape poverty through individual economic empowerment. Professor Yunus is a member of the board of the United Nations Foundation and the recipient of numerous international awards for his humanitarian endeavors.
“Here we were talking about economic development, about investing billions of dollars in various programs, and I could see it wasn’t billions of dollars people needed right away.”