Newburgh celebrates Human Rights Day

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 12/13/23

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted on December 10, 1948 by the United Nations is a landmark document that ushered in an era of expanded human rights for all peoples. Now, 75 …

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Newburgh celebrates Human Rights Day


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted on December 10, 1948 by the United Nations is a landmark document that ushered in an era of expanded human rights for all peoples. Now, 75 years later, these universal rights continue to be celebrated as the City of Newburgh’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) celebrated its annual Human Rights Day Celebration on Sunday, December 10.

The annual Human Rights Day Celebration remembers and celebrates the adoption of the UDHR and recognizes those in the community known as “Human Rights Heroes”. These heroes are members of the greater community who are honored and recognized for their advocacy, service and work. For 2023, the Human Rights Heroes honored were Kyle Conway, Shantia Jackson, Virginia Kasinki and Tanika McCullough.

Kyle Conway - Born May 8, 1979 in the Bronx, Conway spent his early youth and teenage years in the city borough where he was raised by his mother and father along with 11 siblings and grew up with many cousins. He credits his sense of community from his family.

Conway today is an elementary school teacher in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, serves as the vice president of the Newburgh/Highland Falls chapter of the NAACP and maintains membership in the Town of Montgomery Sacred Place of My Ancestors (SPOMA) Committee.

Shantia Jackson - An entrepreneur for more than 25 years, she is also the CEO of Jackson Kingdom Kidz Daycare Inc. Her business doubles as a food pantry on Tuesdays, where she provides food to the local community and surrounding neighborhood. In addition, Jackson also works to provide emergency housing for women and children and serves as an advocate for tenant independence, all while serving and showing others the love of God in her community. Jackson, who was raised in the church and has worked within other ministerial roles, presently serves as the Youth Pastor and Director at New Day Tabernacle Cathedral of Sunday School.

Virginia Kasinki - Kasinki is the current executive director of the Newburgh Urban Farm and Food Initiative (NUFFI). This nonprofit organization’s mission is to build a just and resilient food system that provides access to healthy local food for all Newburgh residents. The Downing Park Urban Farm, a two acre active farm, and Annual Newburgh Urban Farming Fair are several programs initiated by NUFFI.

Several accomplishments and accolades of NUFFI include: approximately 28,000 pounds of produce has been donated since 2016 to 15 feeding sites in the city, and nine active community gardens are being maintained within the city as well. NUFFI also provides youth education and employment opportunities and assists with the SUNY Orange Green House.

Tanika McCullough - McCullough is a licensed social worker and Restorative Justice Specialist who founded Dandelions Are Flowers Too Youth Organization (D.A.F.T. Youth Services). This non-profit organization’s mission is to eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline. McCullough holds a baccalaureate degree in Sociology, minoring in Urban Education, and a Masters in Social Work focused on Policy Development. McCullough is passionate about the healing Restorative Justice can bring and works diligently to train others to increase student success. She additionally prides herself on working with educators to implement Restorative Justice practices to minimize student misconduct.

Beginning the ceremony, HRC Chairperson Ramona Burton welcomed and greeted those in attendance and thanked all for being there to celebrate with the HRC. “Today, we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that every human being every one of us is entitled to certain inalienable rights,” she said. “And for 75 years, the core ambition of the declaration has been to infuse societies with equality, fundamental freedoms and justice.”

For the past five years as well, Burton proudly stated the HRC has observed Human Rights Day, and starting back in 2021, the commission held its first honoring of Human Rights Heroes. For the city’s celebration, the theme revolved around the phrase “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All”.

In attendance for the event were New York State Supreme Court Justice and former Newburgh City Court Judge E. Loren Williams, who delivered the keynote address, and New York State Human Rights Commissioner Maria Imperial, who visited and assisted with distributing the Human Rights Heroes awards. Mayor Torrance Harvey, City Manager Todd Venning and Councilman Anthony Grice were also present and recognized.

Turning to the Human Rights Heroes, Harvey thanked and recognized them for their work in the community. “It’s important that we congratulate you and your success on this auspicious occasion, and your contributions once again to the advancement of human rights within our community. They are truly commendable, they are truly recognizable, and they are appreciated in the highest order,” he said.

Judge Williams followed and offered his address to the crowd touching upon the history and importance of the UDHR, further calling for the continued support of the work and efforts of the HRC and for the gathered crowd to continue to protect these human rights wherever they go.

“Our honorees have heard the call and while we see on the news on a daily basis the bounds of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tested, it’s more likely that we’ll encounter a violation of that document here at home. The tyranny this document was designed to stop may present itself on your way to work, at your child’s school, or even in your neighborhood,” he said. “We think we will live in a country where, on paper, the ideas of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are protected. However, to ensure that protection, it is the watchful eye of each and every one of you that must shine a bright light on those who would seek to sidestep the laws enacted to protect our basic freedoms, and instead promote tyranny and oppression in its place. Each one of you must keep your eyes open and watch for the creep of injustice in our neighborhoods, on our streets, and between each other.”

Commissioner Imperial, introduced by HR Commissioner Zineb Awad, also expressed her gratitude for the invitation and reflected on the celebration. “Human rights isn’t just an international issue. It’s something that we need to continue advancing and advocating for our own communities or else we risk losing those rights,” she said. “Thank you for working to advance human rights here at home in Newburgh and for helping create a better community for us all. I encourage all of us to continue working together to advance like these and beyond to advance human rights for everyone.”