Nashville hosts the Tennessee celebration of International Human Rights Day

Members of the organizing committee for the 2018 Tennessee Celebration of International Human Rights Day (L to R): Phoebe Castelblanco, UNICEF; Sarah Imran, Metro Human Relations Commission; Veronica McGraw, Tennessee Human Rights Commission; Rev. Brian Fesler, Church of Scientology (Chair); Julie Brinker, Church of Scientology; and Lynn Grassmeyer, United Nations Association & Amnesty International.

International Human Rights Day occurs every year to commemorate the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. This year is the 71st anniversary of this important historical document. In Tennessee, Human Rights Day has become a day to reflect and look at lessons learned and battles won, while various human rights groups join forces and commit to creating an even better future.

Nashville will once again host the Tennessee Celebration of International Human Rights Day, on Tuesday, December 10, 5pm – 7pm, at the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Ave S, Nashville TN 37212, to honor Tennesseans whose work has advanced the cause of Human Rights. The theme for 2019 was chosen to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage and is: “Vote on Purpose: The Communal Impact of One Vote.”

Celebration organizers this year include the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, Metro Human Relations Commission, United Nations Association, Amnesty International, Muslim Women’s Council, Scarritt Bennett Center, Tennessee United for Human Rights, Church of Scientology and others.

Registration and Networking begin at 5:00 pm and the Program begins at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $10, with proceeds being used to send Tennessee students to a Model UN session. Seating is limited at the Center and it is recommended that you purchase your ticket(s) now. (If the price is a barrier, contact  the hosts to request a sponsored ticket.) More information at

Honorees will be recognized for work they have done in the human rights arena, including Rising Advocate Awards, Outstanding Service, and Lifetime Achievement awards will be presented to round out the program.

Introduced in 2011, the Rising Advocate Award is bestowed upon individuals early in their career who have already demonstrated a dedication and contribution to human rights. The 2019 Human Rights Rising Advocate Awards will go to two individuals. Tequila Johnson, co-founder and vice president of The Equity Alliance, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that equips black and brown citizens with tools and strategies to strengthen their communities and make government work better. And Frances Anderson, who has been working with refugees since 2013 and now has a position with Catholic Charities of Middle Tennessee as the state refugee health coordinator.

Introduced in 2014, the Outstanding Service Award is presented to devoted human rights leaders who have done amazing work to forward human rights in the state of Tennessee. The 2019 Outstanding Service Awards will be presented to two deserving individuals. Rev. Keith Caldwell, pastor of Key United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Co-Founder of the Urban Epicenter, and president of the Nashville branch of the NAACP. And to Rashed Fakruddhin, president of the Islamic Center of Nashville who is involved in numerous multicultural and outreach events and programs throughout the year and also serves on the YWCA board where he is deeply involved with the AMEND initiative.

The award for Lifetime Achievement is given to individuals who have dedicated their life and career to the advancement of human rights. The two 2019 Lifetime Achievement Awards are going to Rev. Edwin C. Sanders II, Senior Servant and Founder of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, which attracts a broad cross-section of people with the mission of being “inclusive of all and alienating to none” and whose outreach ministries include substance abuse, advocacy for children, sexual violence, and harm reduction, and since 1984 has provided services to persons infected with, and affected by, HIV/AIDS with the First Response Center being founded in 1992. And to Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld who was instrumental in getting gay marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court, and has been a longtime advocate for equal rights.

As the theme for Human Rights Day this year is “Vote on Purpose: The Communal Impact of One Vote,” the program will focus on the 100 year anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement and how voter’s rights impact all other human rights. A panel incorporating this theme will be moderated by David Plazas of the Tennessean. Panel members include Aisha Lbhalla with the Muslim Women’s Council, Raoul Lopez with Men of Valor, and Omari Booker, a local artist.

A committee of human rights organizations and nonprofits, including the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, Metro Human Relations Commission, United Nations Association, UNICEF, Amnesty International, Tennessee United for Human Rights, the Church of Scientology, and others, work together each year to plan the event.

“Human Rights Day gives the community a chance to acknowledge advocates and leaders while also learning more about what human rights really mean for all people,” says planning committee chair Rev. Brian Fesler, pastor of the Church of Scientology in Nashville.

Tennessee Human Rights Advocate Award Recipients, 2008 – 2019

Awards are bestowed on individuals who have made significant contributions to human rights in Tennessee, or who have roots in Tennessee and have made an impact elsewhere around the globe. Recipients are recognized annually at the Tennessee celebration of International Human Rights Day.


Lifetime Achievement – Rev. Edwin C. Sanders II, Abby Rubenfeld

Outstanding Service – Keith Caldwell, Rashed Fakruddhin

Rising Advocate – Tequila Johnson, Frances Anderson


Lifetime Achievement – King Hollands, Dr. Blondell Strong Kimbrough

Outstanding Service – Dawn Deaner, Tom Negri

Rising Advocate – Fayo Abadula, Anne Barnett, Odessa Kelly, Community Oversight Now


Lifetime Achievement – Senator Thelma Harper, Joey King

Outstanding Service – Zulfat Suara, Jerry Redman

Rising Advocate – Kayo Beshir, Pratik Dash, Madison White


Lifetime Achievement – Dr. Charles Kimbrough

Outstanding Service – Juan Canedo, Derri Smith

Rising Advocate – Anna Carella, Justin Jones, Mohamed Shukri-Hassan


Lifetime Achievement – Kwame Lillard, Bernard Werthan

Outstanding Service – Dr. Marisa Richmond

Rising Advocate – Ashford Hughes Sr., Aisha Lbhalla


Lifetime Achievement – Fr. Joseph Breen, First Baptist Capitol Hill

Outstanding Service – Yuri Cunza, Avi Poster

Rising Advocate – Eben Cathey, Daynise Joseph


Lifetime Achievement – Carrie Gentry, Elliott Ozment, Rev. James “Tex” Thomas

Rising Advocate – Stephanie Teatro, Gatluak Thach


Lifetime Achievement – Rev. Bill Barnes, Attorney George Barrett, Rosetta Miller Perry

Rising Advocate – Daoud Abudiab, Cecilia Gomez


Lifetime Achievement – Jerry Lee, Sheila Peters

Rising Advocate – MarQo Patton, Remziya Suleyman


Lifetime Achievement – Don Beisswenger, Jocelyn Dan Wurzburg, Tommie Morton Young


Lifetime Achievement – Fred Cloud, Inez Crutchfield

2008 (First Year of the Tennessee Celebration)

Lifetime Achievement – Rev. Dr. James Lawson, Mr. John Seigenthaler

The Organizer of Tennessee Celebration of International Human Rights Day 2019 is Tennessee United for Human Rights, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to forwarding the knowledge and protection of human rights by and for all Mankind.  It is the Tennessee chapter of United for Human Rights International.