Pam Bruns, founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (STF), has received the 2020 O’Brien Award for Individual Achievement from the national Human Rights Educators USA.
Established in 2015 in memory of Edward O’Brien, a pioneer human rights educator (HRE), the award annually honors an individual and an organization that have made an outstanding contribution to human rights education in the United States.
The 2020 awards were presented on December 10 during the HRE USA’s Human Rights Day Celebration on Zoom.
Bruns founded the HRW Student Task Force in 1999, while serving as the Director of Human Rights Watch in Southern California from 1996-2002. HRW is an international organization, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights.
Under Bruns’ guidance, STF has worked for 21 years to develop leadership and advocacy skills among high school students and encourage their commitment to defend and protect human rights, both locally and globally.
Each year, STF works with approximately 250 student leaders at 14 public and private high schools in Los Angeles County. These leaders reach out to more than 25,000 students in Los Angeles, empowering them to advocate for human rights issues, especially the rights of children.
Annual human rights campaign issues have included ending the use of child soldiers, pursuing juvenile justice reform in California, protecting immigrant children on the southern U.S. border and defending the universal right to education.
In nominating Bruns, former STF student Linda Gordon said, “Pam has inspired me and countless others … to be leaders and advocates for human rights … and change-makers in our communities.”
Faculty sponsor Angelica Pereyra, a Palisades High School art teacher, added, “Pam Bruns has an unparalleled compassion for humanity … she projects warmth and hope … and opens the space for human rights to be discovered, discussed and become the focus of action among high school students.”
Circling the News reported on Palisades High’s STF chapter in early March, when the students organized a day-long exhibition in Mercer Hall. They had researched human rights violations in four major areas and then presented those abuses to educate their fellow classmates. Importantly, they also identified and advocated for actions to address the abuses.
Specific exhibits highlighted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt after World War II and adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948; climate change and its impact on the earth and the future of young people; kids in cages on the U.S. southern border; ending gun violence; and protecting homeless youth.
“The STF members are learning about their rights and the rights of children,” Pereyra said. “In doing so, they are developing their advocacy skills.”
“The first human rights campaign at Pali by the STF was to end the use of child soldiers worldwide,” Bruns said. “We return to that issue periodically. Human rights, like public education require continual attention and commitment.”
Bruns and her STF associate, Kristin Ghazarians, with their team of interns and assistants, develop all the background materials and actions for the current campaign, while also meeting weekly (via Zoom) with student leaders and chapters at each school.
In addition, the STF members regularly meet with Human Rights Watch researchers, various public officials, city councils and district school boards to advocate for policy change to protect human rights.
This year’s fall campaign focused on voting as a human right. In January, the STF will once again address human rights in climate change.
Pam Bruns and her husband, Bill (who was editor-in-chief of the Palisadian-Post for 20 years), have lived in Pacific Palisades since 1972. In 1992-93, Pam helped lead a coalition of teachers, administrators and parents who campaigned to gain charter status for Palisades public schools. The LAUSD board approved this overall charter in June 1993.