With the death of Kirby Edmonds last month, Human Rights Educators USA lost one of its sustaining sources of inspiration and committed leadership.
Kirby was with HRE USA from its foundational meeting in 2011. As his partner and comrade Laura Branca recalled:
“I remember being in Cambridge years ago … On the second day, people had come out of our working group with the idea of a consortium of human rights educators, a national network, a motley crew on an impossibly audacious mission to share our various resources and approaches, and nurture solidarity and mutual support across the boundaries of where we place ourselves. And we were onto next steps and there was a request for a show of hands from those who wanted to work on it. Knowing how many, many things we were working on in DCI [The Dorothy Cotton Institute] and beyond, I was saying to myself, “Yeah, I get it, but Hell No!” I was sitting next to Kirby and I think I grasped his forearm and under my breath said ‘Kirby, don’t raise your hand! Kirby, don’t do it. You know you have enough to do already…’ And then his hand was in the air, and the rest is history! “
Drawing on his years of community organizing, Kirby was instrumental in the establishment of “this impossibly audacious mission” that became HRE USA, directly shaping our mission statement, organizational structure, and most important our values framework and the consensus-based policy for decision-making. He served as co-Chair of HRE USA for nearly a decade.
HRE USA was only one of Kirby’s lifelong efforts toward social justice. As his obituary in the Ithaca Journal says, “Kirby was a mighty river that flowed through our community and far beyond, watering the positive seeds of possibility.” He was currently the Program Coordinator and a Senior Fellow with the Dorothy Cotton Institute (DCI) and the Cradle to Career Initiative, yet the scope of his work reached well beyond these roles. As his obituary described:
“Everywhere that people of good will united to tackle problems or cultivate opportunities, Kirby was quickly pulled into the center. He took on many roles– contributor, connector, or designated leader, but always encouraged folks to plan actions that would get more power and resources into the people’s hands. Soft spoken and kind, Kirby was skilled in the art of posing incisive questions, ever asking folks to consider who else should be at the table. He had a keen understanding of power and the courage never to shy away from issues of violence, racism, poverty, hunger, and intergroup conflict.“
Kirby was born on August 17, 1951 in Huntsville, Texas. As a youth he was educated in Glastonbury, Connecticut; Nairobi, Kenya; and Beirut, Lebanon. He held two degrees from Cornell University, a B.A. in History and an M.P.A. with a major in community and rural development.
In honor of his legacy, HRE USA is pleased to announce the new Kirby Edmonds Fellowship to support students with hands-on leadership experience in human rights education and further Kirby’s work to engage young people in building human rights-friendly schools and communities. Donations to support this new student fellowship can be made online or checks can be made out to the Center for Transformative Action with “HRE USA Edmonds Fellowship” in the memo line and mailed to the Human Rights Educators USA, 212 Homestead Terrace, Ithaca, NY, 14850. HRE-USA is a project of the Center for Transformative Action, a 501(c)3 organization and all contributions are tax-deductible.