Justin Bibee (seated at right) helps youth in Brattleboro, Vermont. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Freshee)
The efforts of Justin Bibee ’12 influenced town leaders in Brattleboro, Vermont, to declare Dec. 10, 2017, as Human Rights Day. The day marks the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10,1948. Each year, the town will set aside this day to advocate for and provide activities and training on human rights.
Various organizations in Brattleboro have the discretion to do what they’d like to bring more awareness from protesting to staging a march or conducting presentations.
Bibee works as a shelter coordinator and case manager for Youth Services, a nonprofit that provides transformative prevention, intervention and development programs for young people in Brattleboro.
He said his daily encounters with clients prompted him to lobby the town manager and select board to create a Human Rights Day.
“Every day, I see people suffering discrimination and facing numerous obstacles in securing adequate housing, employment, healthcare, food and clothes,’’ Bibee said. “This is disheartening. I proposed a proclamation for this day with hopes of facilitating a way for people to get their basic needs met.’’
Bibee and Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell
As a justice studies major at RIC, Bibee, a Cranston native, said a class he took during his senior year inspired him to pursue a career that revolved around human rights. Aside from his position in Youth Services, Bibee is also a master’s degree candidate at the School for International Training (SIT) in Vermont, studying peace building and conflict transformation.
Bibee served as president of the SIT Student Association, a position that he said helped him develop analytical skills to understand the causes of deep-rooted social conflict.
“For example, I have a better understanding of why conflict is passed from one generation to the next,’’ he said. “All we tend to see is the terrible side on the news. However, many conflicts have evolved from underlying systemic causes and started among people who want their rights.’’
Bibee was a member of the Peace Corps in Morocco from 2014 to 2016 and an intern for the United Nations in Tanzania in 2017. He is the founder of the United Nations Association of Vermont, which he created to focus on human rights education.
“I’d like to establish a process of empowerment through which people and communities increase control over their lives and the decisions that affect them,’’ he said. “The ultimate goal of human rights education is for people to establish justice and dignity for all.’’
When asked how RIC students could impact human rights, Bibee suggested making subtle behavioral changes.
“You don’t have to wait until you have a degree or land a job to begin human rights work,’’ he said. “Small changes matter – such as not infringing on someone else’s freedom of expression. If everyone’s human rights were respected, I truly believe we would have world peace.’’