Bringing Human Rights Home: A Message From Amnesty USA Executive Director Steven W. Hawkins

I grew up in the shadow of Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York. As a boy, I would walk by Sing Sing and hear the inmates talking, a stark and sobering reminder of the dashed dreams of the many men I knew growing up who ended up impoverished, incarcerated or killed. Young men like my childhood best friend, who is currently serving a life sentence.

For many activists who join the struggle for human rights, there is a transformative moment, which inspires a lifelong commitment to social advocacy. For me, that moment came inside the walls of Sing Sing prison.

Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International

Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International

In high school, as a NAACP youth member, I had the opportunity to visit there. The voices I overheard outside the penitentiary became deep and personal conversations with inmates during my trips inside. Through my conversations with these men, many of them Black Panthers or inmates from Attica who fought inhumane prison conditions, I learned that prison bars are not a barrier to activism, that a life sentence is not a roadblock to compassion or to making a contribution. The inmates of Sing Sing saw potential in me – treated me like a younger brother – and helped me find a passion to fight injustice at a critical turning point in my life.

After my visits to Sing Sing, I knew I could no longer be a passive witness to injustice. I became an avid reader and student, eventually earning my law degree. The courtroom became my first battleground for fighting injustice.

For the past 25 years, I have defended civil liberties and human rights both here and abroad and today, I am honored to be joining Amnesty International USA as its Executive Director to continue that fight.

The human rights movement is “borderless” and we have the opportunity to educate and connect more people on a very personal level to injustices globally by bringing human rights home. We must harness the passion and commitment we see at home and connect these voices to millions more demanding respect for the same rights in distant places.

Together, we are a powerful force and together, we can protect the human rights of people everywhere.

Amnesty International USA is uniquely positioned to connect discrimination against the LGBT community here in the United States to the discrimination and the LGBT community in Russia, Uganda, and Honduras experiences. We can connect police torture and illegal surveillance that occurs in the United States to similar abuses occurring in China, Egypt and elsewhere. We can connect a young woman in the U.S. fighting for reproductive freedom to women in El Salvador, Ireland and other countries who are fighting for the same rights.

The commitment to justice I learned from the men of Sing Sing continues to inspire me every single day. It is because of them that I am committed to making these connections and reinforcing that the struggle for human rights is personal and relevant to everyone.

We have to see injustice against any person’s human rights regardless of where they live in the world as a personal affront to our own rights. We have to view human rights abuses as a call to action to do everything in our power to improve the world until we achieve Amnesty’s vision of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

Now more than ever, the U.S. and the rest of the world need the voices, the grassroots advocacy, the activism and the commitment to justice that Amnesty represents.

I look forward to working with you to fight for OUR rights and ALL rights at home and around the world.

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13 thoughts on “Bringing Human Rights Home: A Message From Amnesty USA Executive Director Steven W. Hawkins

  1. Congratulation Steven. Your leadership is needed. Keep Amnesty relevant – too many people lack basic human rights.

  2. Dear Mr.Steven,

    Wishing you all the best in defending civil liberties and human rights through Amnesty International USA as its Executive Director.

  3. Free on the Inside! That's a phrase I saw with my eyes and heard in my ears as I tiptoed and later dove into jail and prison ministry back in Louisiana As a vocal spporter of Amnesty InternationL for many years I want to warmy welcome you to this vital and important work. Keep up the good work!

  4. Congratulations Steve! AIUSA is in very capable and compassionate hands. I've no doubt we'll be accomplishing amazing things.

  5. This man is just what we need to help Leonard Peltier regain his freedom after almost 40 years of being a Political Prisoner in America, his Native home. Supporters of Leonard have been trying for many years to assist in bringing about his freedom and Mr Hawkins appears to be just the right man for this job.

  6. Welcome Steven!
    Your background is a blessing and I am grateful that you are here in this important post at this time in history. I want to share my concern regarding a human rights issues that I believe has been mis-categorized. Under the heading of Women's Rights, this and other organizations place the killing of the American Unborn. Our Unborn citizen's have no rights and no one to speak for them. While they have committed no crime they are given death sentences. There is no evidence against them and it is obvious that the clinics which provide this service are strategically placed in mostly American Black and American Mexican neighborhoods. I strongly oppose the death penalty. I stand against the oppression of people who speak up in support of human rights. Yet, in our country, under the heading of a woman's right to choose, these citizens' most sacred right is denied, their right to exist. Please think on this issue.

  7. As someone who also grew up in Ossining, I'm very pleased to see that Steve has been given this role at AIUSA. His personal history and work gives me hope for the future of this group and its mission