Tag Archives: United Nations

Women’s History Month 2013: Miriam Makeba

4 Mar

MakebaToday we honor and celebrate the powerful singer and international social justice activist known to the world as Mama Africa. Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on this date in 1932. She began singing in a primary school choir. She married young and had her only child, Bongi Makeba, at the age of 18. Shortly after this, Miriam was diagnosed with breast cancer and her husband left her.

After her recovery, she began pursuing music professionally, working with the local jazz group the Manhattan Brothers. She left the band to form her own all-female group, the Skylarks, who merged native music with jazz stylings. It was with the Skylarks that she recorded the first version of her best known hit, Pata Pata. She composed it herself (with rock writer Jerry Ragovoy), mostly in the Xhosa language.

Her first major break also caused her major problems. She eagerly participated in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa. Audiences responded so well to her presence in the film that the director had her travel to festivals to help promote it. It was during this time that she met fellow South African performer and future husband Hugh Masakela. When she tried to return home for her mother’s funeral, she discovered that the South African government had cancelled her passport in retaliation for her anti-apartheid work. Guinea, Belgium, and Ghana issued her international passports in recognition of her situation.

Harry Belafonte helped introduce Makeba to U.S. audiences as part of the proto-World Beat movement of the mid-60s. She was very well received and began a promising career, including the U.S. release of Pata Pata which went to #12. After her marriage to Masakela ended, she met and married Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael. His status as a Black Panther concerned the more conservative power brokers in the American music industry, and she suddenly found herself without a record deal or a tour. She took advantage of her Guinean passport and moved there, where she lived happily for the next 15 years.

While in Guinea, Makeba served as a delegate to the United Nations, speaking on race relations in Africa. In addition to performing, she continued her activism, working on hunger in Africa and political unrest. She finally returned to South Africa in 1990 to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela. She spent the 90s recording with other luminaries (like the great Nina Simone, a true kindred spirit). She was also appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Ever irrepressible, she also collaborated with South African first lady Graça Machel-Mandela on combatting juvenile HIV and the use of children as soldiers.

Mama Africa was known for her passion and her infectious smile. She loved performing and never slowed down. During a fundraising concert in Italy in 2008, she suffered a heart attack. It is somehow fitting that she left this world doing the two things she loved best, singing and making it a better place. Happy Birthday, Miriam Makeba! You departed too young at 76, but your legacy is still felt by the millions whose lives you touched.

Hero of the Week Award: September 28, French President François Hollande

28 Sep

Hero of the Week

What a delight to celebrate a world leader taking a strong international stand for basic human rights. French President François Hollande made an historic speech at the United Nations this week. Using his own nation as an example, he discussed the obligation of leaders to fight for universal human rights and freedoms.

France will continue to engage in all these struggles: for the abolition of the death penalty, for women’s rights to equality and dignity, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, which should not be recognised as a crime but, on the contrary, recognized as a sexual orientation.

All member countries have the obligation to guarantee the security of their citizens, and if one nation adheres to this obligation, it is then imperative that we, the United Nations, facilitate the necessary means to make that guarantee. These are the issues that France will lead and defend in the United Nations. I say this with seriousness. When there is paralysis… and inaction, then injustice and intolerance can find their place.

Well said, Mr. President! How nice to see that France replaced Sarkozy with someone truly presidential. Let’s hope American voters are smart enough not to do the opposite this November.

Honorable mention this week goes to two women who shared their personal struggles to help improve the lives of thousands. Katie Couric revealed her youthful battle with bulimia in an interview. A few days later, Lady Gaga expanded on her Born This Way foundation to include victims of poor body image, discussing her battles with anorexia and bulimia because she “felt like a freak.” Let’s hope that the courage and leadership they have shown help remove stigma and move the dialog forward productively.

The Time Has Come: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

24 Mar

Ban Ki-moon, a true leader!

Thank you to my friends Allison and Mary for inspiring me to write this post. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon posted a phenomenal video underscoring the needs for civil rights around the world for the LGBT community.  He pulls no punches and calls out bad behavior.  His speech is awe inspiring and shows true leadership!  Now if the Democratic Party could show the same courage and integrity as the United Nations Secretary General and take a stand for human rights, as recommended by Elizabeth Warren. Click here to see the video of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Black History Month 2012: Ralph Bunche

17 Feb

Today we honor a celebrated diplomat and political scientist, Nobel Laureate Ralph Bunche. In 1950, Bunche was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Palestine, the first person of color to be awarded this honor.

Ralph Bunche was born in Detroit, MI at the turn of the 20th Century. He was a brilliant student, emerging top of his class in high school and at UCLA. He earned his Master’s and PhD in Political Science from Harvard while teaching at Howard University. He chaired the Howard PoliSci department from 1928 to 1950.

During World War II, Bunche served with the OSS and parlayed that experience into a post with the State Department after the war. He was closely involved in creating the charter for the nascent United Nations and worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt on the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Starting in 1947, he began working on the Arab-Israeli conflict and was the UN’s primary negotiator. Firm but fair, he was respected by all parties and helped craft the first major Middle-East armistice. He went on to help mediate in numerous other strife-torn regions and was eventually made UN Undersecretary-General.

Bunche was also involved in US politics, especially the civil rights movement. He helped support the 1963 March on Washington and was an outspoken advocate for racial equality. Despite his prominence, he suffered direct racism in his neighborhood, being denied membership in a local tennis club in 1959. Ralph Bunche was an amazing force for good in the world. Let us try to live up to his vision:

May there be, in our time, at long last, a world at peace in which we, the people, may for once begin to make full use of the great good that is in us.

Hero of the Week: December 9, Hillary Clinton

9 Dec

Hero of the Week

Thanks to regular TSM commenter Jay for this week’s winning HWA nomination. What a pleasure to recognize Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her stirring speech to the United Nations as part of the week leading up to Human Rights Day. Secretary Clinton built on a White House memorandum that directs

all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.

From that wonderful platform, she spent 30 minutes clearly articulating the fact that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”  The full video is available here and a transcript is here. The following excerpt captures the spirit of her comments.

Today I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose Human Rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or too often even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity who have a right to claim that which is now one of the remaining Human Rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on Human Rights for gay people is far from perfect…

Now raising this issue I know is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural and religious beliefs. [But] being gay is not a western invention. It is a human reality. And protecting the Human Rights of all people gay or straight is not something that only western governments do.

Thank you, Madame Secretary, and special thanks for recognizing how far our own country has to go. May your stirring words provide the sound foundation for full civil rights in foreign and domestic policy.

Historical Moment for United Nations and LGBT Community

18 Jun

Thank you to my friends Joe and Tom for inspiring this story.  Yesterday, the United Nations finally endorsed protection of the LGBT community and went further to express:

“grave concern” about abuses because of sexual orientation and commissioning a global report on discrimination against gays.

And Kudos to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her response:

This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love.

I know many of us feel we keep taking steps backwards to full parity– with bigots like Morgan, Tyree, and Bachmann–but having the United Nations as an advocate is a historic step forward.  Click here to see the full story.

Eleanor Roosevelt: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

10 Dec

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document, drafted by Eleanor Roosevelt.  Here is just a bit of it to treasure.

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. We hope its proclamation by the General Assembly will be an event comparable to the proclamation in 1789 [the French Declaration of the Rights of Citizens], the adoption of the Bill of Rights by the people of the US, and the adoption of comparable declarations at different times in other countries.

How sad and ironic that United Nations has now eliminated any type of protection for people who are LGBTQ. How I wish we had more people like our dear Eleanor–people with integrity and the courage of their principles.

Selfishly, I love that my birthday is on this day and feel strangely connected to my hero Eleanor Roosevelt.

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