Story by Abby Siegel, News Editor
Human rights activist and Murray State alumna Jessica Evans presented at the 51st Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International in Miami, on board recruitment strategies and ways to engage members to take on leadership roles.
The conference, themed “Change Our World,” typically has more than a thousand activists, human rights supporters and educators from across the United States and globally. Discussions at the conference featured issues such as racial justice, uncovering human rights abuses through journalism, migrant and refugee rights, the death penalty and recent terrorist attacks, among other topics.
Evans serves as a member of the Board of Directors and International Nominating Committee for Amnesty International and is the vice chairwoman of the City of Murray Human Rights Commission.
“Leadership is not just about the position you have, but the values you exhibit and how you represent yourself,” Evans said. “I have come up with the resolution to just stay happy and do what I love.”
In 2011, Evans applied to be the Kentucky Area Coordinator for Amnesty International, working to “revitalize” groups in Kentucky. Through her work, nine new registered Amnesty International groups were created in Kentucky.
According to the City of Murray’s official website, “the commission’s purpose is to promote and secure mutual understanding and respect among all economic, social, religious, age, ethnic, sexual and racial groups in the city, and shall act as conciliator in controversies involving intergroup and interracial relations.”
The commission has been involved in numerous initiatives in its effort to promote social issues awareness related to Murray, including an anti-bullying campaign, conversations on race relations, individuals with disabilities, aging populations, LGBT inclusion and poverty, among other areas of human rights and social equality.
“When one group succeeds, we all succeed,” Evans said.
MURRAY STATE BEGINNINGS
Evans’ initial involvement with Amnesty International began when she was a student at Murray State. She said there was a student organization that met on campus to work to free a prisoner of conscience – someone who had been wrongfully imprisoned because of his or her beliefs.
The Amnesty International student organization is still on campus and puts on different educational events to spread awareness about human rights issues like the Syrian refugee crisis and the Armenian genocide. Other topics the organization plans to cover are transgender rights and mandatory prison stay rights.
“We try to spread awareness about what these different crimes against humanity are,” said Jon Dunning, senior from Metropolis, Illinois, and vice president of the student organization.
Dunning said they are “just supporting our fellow humans.”
Evans supports the Murray State chapter of Amnesty International by providing Amnesty International gear and being a source of ideas for the organization.
“She has always been supportive,” said Tracey Newport, senior from Mayfield, Kentucky. “She has been really great to work with.”
Evans said she encourages people to start small by going to Amnesty International meetings on campus, joining other social justice organizations or attending a Human Rights Commission meeting. Evans grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and said she had the advantage of being raised by a family with five generations of “courageous women in a city with a history rooted in the civil rights movement and struggles for equality.” She said she has stories of her personal experiences with sexism, racism and discrimination and that others have them too. However, their stories often go untold and that is why she advocates for all people to be treated with dignity and respect.
“I advocate for human rights so that eventually the stories about pain, isolation and endangerment become ones of triumph, encouragement and civility,” Evans said. “Human rights are important to me for the same, incredibly-simple reason that human rights should be important to everyone; we are human.”