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Fellowship Report (2004)
Fellow: Tai Nicole Leathers

Fellowship Site: Cultural Diversity Resources of Fargo, North Dakota

Brief History of Organization (founding and salient steps):

A large, rapidly growing refugee/immigrant population in the community and the existence of a Lutheran Social Services Refugee Resettlement Program demonstrated the need for an organization dedicated to diversity. The Fargo-Moorhead area was awarded a $400,000 grant from Pew Partnership for Civic Change to establish a three year Cultural Diversity Project for the community. Local cities and organizations provided approximately $100,000 in matching funds to support the diversity initiatives. In March of 1994 CDR was established with a mission to help build communities that value diversity. The organization acquired 501 (c) 3 status and remains grant dependent.

Tammie Yak, Self-Sufficiency Coordinator, secured a large grant from The Otto Bremer Foundation to implement a Human Rights Library and Resource Center in 2003. Her title changed from Self-Sufficiency Coordinator to Human Rights Educator and CDR moved forward as the only Human Rights Center in our region. The organization is in its first of three years of funding from Otto Bremer and continues to redefine itself as a human rights center.

Departments/Programs in the Organization:

CDR sponsors an Ethnic Leadership Development Program, a Self-Sufficiency Program, a Human Rights Resource Center and Library, and a Technology Center. Meeting space and materials are provided for Somalia, Sudanese, and Bosnian ethnic groups in the basement. The three Self-Sufficiency Coordinators on staff are of these ethnicities, able to speak the native language, continually provide leadership for the group, and generally have many connections in their respective ethnic community. The Human Rights Resource Center and Library (HRCL) is still in beginning stages and continues to develop. A human rights book clubs meets once a month for discussion, and a movie is played each month at a local church. The HRCL will periodically host Human Rights Training of Trainers (TOT) to increase the number of human rights educators in this community. Annual TOT’s will rapidly disseminate human rights knowledge. The Technology Center offers training in computer skills to community members. There are classes held for instructional typing, accessing the Internet, and specific programs.

Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:

I assisted in planning and implementing a Human Rights Training of Trainers (TOT) in the Fargo/Moorhead area. I had to familiarize myself with human rights, the human rights framework, and community organizing before I could begin to plan the TOT. I made connections in the community by attending Moorhead Human Rights Committee and Fargo Human Relations Commission meetings. I recruited individuals from numerous organizations in the community to serve on a planning committee for the Training of Trainers. Tammie and I had a vision for the community and were adamant about hosting a TOT though funding was unsure. I was responsible for attaining the funding required to meet our budget. I wrote grants, submitted donation requests to local businesses, and wrote letters to local corporations and higher education institutions. I was inexperienced in these areas and proved unsuccessful, but I did learn a lot. The North Dakota Department of Labor donated $40,000 to the TOT and $10,000 for follow-up in June and the event was scheduled to occur in August. Funding was not secured until the last minute but we never thought twice about moving forward in the planning process, Tammie and I were always positive. I was also responsible for promoting the event and disbursing applications. A conscious effort was made to be inclusive and challenge barriers. The application was translated into Spanish, Bosnian, and Somalia and community connectors were used to inform the ethnic leadership groups. Contact was made with local school districts and spots in the training were reserved for employees from each school district. Concordia College, Minnesota State University, North Dakota State University, and Minnesota Community and Technical College were contacted to help promote the event. I helped develop a curriculum of human rights education and community organizing to utilize during the training. Materials, and speakers, were strategically placed in a sequence that enabled participants to conceptually link the two theories and concepts. Community members were asked to facilitate by giving presentations on their area of expertise.


Cultural Diversity Resources successfully implemented a Human Rights Training of Trainers (TOT). Participant selection criteria placed an emphasis on the refugee/immigrant population, and spots were reserved for representatives from local school districts. On August 1 of 2004 twenty-two individuals from around the globe completed the training and emerged as competent Human Rights Educators. Relationships developed between people that didn’t speak the same language. Participants and facilitators were open to new cultures, beliefs and all, and were willing to be critical of their own cultural. This group experienced a mild culture shock when cultural traditions were explored and participants grasped the significance of culture and socialization.
Participants remain excited to give presentations in the community and inform others of their human rights. The accomplishments achieved through these presentations have yet to materialize. The curriculum of the Public School System in the United States neglects human rights education, so generally Americans are not familiar with these rights. As a participant, I am currently working with the Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) Social Work Department to implement human rights education in the curriculum. Social work as a profession values the inherent rights of humans, yet it has just begun to frame these beliefs in a human rights context. The TOT stressed the use of community organizing to address violations of human rights. The term human rights is crucial because it is broad enough to include many issues and unite many struggles into one movement.


I struggled to internalize human rights and conceptualize the marriage of community organizing and human rights. I understand the human rights framework in theory and have begun to grasp the concept as action in reality. It was difficult to acquire funding and engage the Fargo/Moorhead community in human rights. A lack of human rights knowledge contributed to difficulty engaging the community. Support can be located around specific rights granted in the UDHR but when you use them in entirety, and label them human rights, individuals are reluctant. I will continue to explore this hesitation to participate and lack of support for human rights in our community, and nation as a whole.

Language barriers presented challenges before and during the Training of Trainers, as well as follow-up. Interpreters for presentations, as well as materials, were necessary. Time was taken to make sure all participants comprehended the training, and everyone was encouraged to provide input and personal testimony. A wide range of education challenged us to develop a curriculum general enough for entry-level studies yet complex enough to further the education of those familiar with the framework.

Conferences Attended:

I attended the Building Racially Inclusive Communities Conference (BRICC) during my fellowship. This workshop prepared me to implement a genuinely inclusive training and gave me insight concerning potential barriers when combining numerous cultures.
I attended many community-organizing workshops when preparing for the TOT.

Other projects/works started or completed:

All participants of the TOT are required to give two human rights presentations in the community. The first follow up meeting is scheduled to occur next week. After the meeting I will have a better understanding of how the TOT impacted the community, and I will also know what projects participants have initiated. As mentioned earlier, I have begun to incorporate human rights education into the core curriculum of the social work department at MSUM.

How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?

I did not expect this fellowship to challenge my personal beliefs and values, yet it has in numerous ways. I consider myself well throughout and clear about my own values. This fellowship assured me that there is room to grow! Since I am a value driven individual this question is addressed throughout this report.

How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?

My motivation for human rights work has increased. I have always been committed to human rights work but never labeled it that. I have a desire to unite many community-organizing efforts into one movement that would secure human rights in the US. I look forward to working towards human rights in the US. This fellowship made me want to travel abroad to engage in human rights work.

How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/ international human rights organization?

A personal bias always led me to believe that human rights work should be done here in the United States before we focus resources on other countries. Interning at a local human rights organization did not challenge my bias; I was doing work in the United States where I supported the efforts. Participating in the TOT led me to re-examine the role of the US in international affairs. As a natural US citizen my human rights are continually violated and I am all too familiar with poverty, but now that I am aware of the conditions in other countries I support foreign aid. The diverse participants of the TOT enabled me to make this realization without leaving the country.

What quote would captivate “a moment” that you had during your fellowship?

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time....But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
~ Lila Watson, Aboriginal educator and activist

The TOT that CDR implemented focused on organizing and the human rights framework highlighted commonality.

After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?

My fellowship was completed in my local community. I will continue to educate the community about human rights as I strive to unite many struggles into one movement to secure human rights. I will implement human rights education in the curriculum of higher education institutions. I have told my story of the TOT numerous times, and will continue to do so.

Organizational Profile

Full Name of Organization: Cultural Diversity Resources

Abbreviation and initials commonly used: CDR
Organizational Address: 303 Roberts Street
Fargo, ND 58102

Telephone number: (701) 526-3000
Email address:
Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff: Yoke Sim Gunaratne

Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time): CDR employees 4 staff members.

Number of Volunteers: There are currently 3 volunteers.
Objectives of the Organization: To build a community that values diversity.

Date of Information: October 2002
Information Supplied by: Tai Leathers

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