By Michael Kaplan
Lawyer and human rights activist Constance Rice preached the importance of being aware of the violations of human rights occurring locally and worldwide and the need for students to salvage society at an assembly celebrating Black History Month Monday.
âI donât care where you go, never underestimate the default systems for our tribalism, the default systems for our domination,â Rice said. âDonât pretend that this stuff doesnât exist. It is part of the human condition. Your operation is to use that intellectual capital that youâve attained at Harvard-Westlake to think. You have to question and you have to act.â
Rice, who is currently co-director of a public policy and legal action group known as the Advancement Project, stressed the importance of being racially tolerant, citing her diverse background as an example of the many different cultures and ethnicities prevalent in American society.
âMy family is 19th-century America blended, and Iâm not afraid of my ancestors because I claim them all,â Rice said. âDonât be afraid. We can be many, many people. We have one credo. We are many and we are one.”
âWhen I do my work, I look at where I stand. It wasnât that long ago, folks. My great-grandparents were nine, 11, 12 and 14 when they were freed. I can touch slavery through my own family.â
Yet, her speech included more than a plea to stop racial discrimination; the speech also addressed growing poverty issues and the breakdown of habeas corpus and other constitutional rights in America today.
âThe rich can get richer at a slower pace and we can solve problems regarding poverty,â Rice said. âThere is a way to engineer society and we need you as tomorrowâs egineers to figure out a way to reengineer it for justice, real opportunity and a level playing field for everybody.â
She asked students to assume the responsibility of solving these problems in society and increasing human rights awareness nationally and internationally.
âWe need your brains,â she said. âWe need your leadership. We need your talent. This country is an experiment and it is a relay. Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to take the baton and throw fear into the wind and I want you to race like the wind.â
She concluded her speech by answering various questions from the audience which included a brief explanation of Riceâs recent report on how to reduce gang violence in Los Angeles.
Rice joined the NAACP Legal Defense fund in 1991 and became co-director of the Los Angeles branch in 1996.