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Institute celebrates diversity in North Idaho

By Kaye Hult

For the past ten years, the Human Rights Education Institute (HREI) has offered programs and exhibits to the five northern counties of Idaho in a historical building that Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (KCTFHR) member Tony Stewart calls the “‘Gateway to the City of Coeur d’Alene regarding human rights.”

The HREI, the educational arm of the task force, was started as the Human Rights Education Foundation in 1998.  It took several years to establish its strategic plan, mission, building, program and staffing.

Anneleise Miller, HREI
Anneliese Miller has seen human rights institute grow.  Courtesy of HREI

Since its inception, Tony said, it has been “committed to the importance of accepting diversity and promoting tolerance among the citizens of Kootenai County, the State of Idaho, and the Inland Northwest.”

In 2001, philanthropist and Idaho native Greg Carr gave the foundation a $1,000,000 grant as seed money to build a human rights center in Coeur d’Alene.  The foundation then broadened its mission and changed its name to “institute.”  They used part of the grant to remodel the building they leased from the City of Coeur d’Alene.

Anneliese Miller has served on the institute’s board of directors for five years and as president for three.  Involved for about half of the institute’s life, she has seen it evolve and grow.

HREI’s mission is to “celebrate diversity and promote human rights by educating, raising awareness and inspiring transformation in the community,” she said.

So it provides cultural education, raises awareness of critical human rights issues and honors differences while working toward common goals.  It seeks to uphold human rights, education, respect, dignity, diversity, inclusivity and partnerships.

Anneliese, who grew up in Coeur d’Alene, has always known about the task force.

When she was in the fourth grade, a friend of hers was brain-injured in a car accident.  The school decided he should remain in the classroom but behind a cardboard partition.  He and his classmates could not see each other.  Anneliese thought it was degrading.

“I always wanted to make people feel included,” she said. 

She would invite friends who did not have good home lives to her home to give them some relief.

In high school, she wrote papers about human rights issues.  She reported on the Rajneesh group in Oregon, when they reputedly poisoned the water to make a political statement.

She interviewed Fr. Bill Wass-muth, who then was the priest at St Pius X Catholic Church in Coeur d’Alene.  He was involved with the task force as it challenged the Aryan Nations.

Every January since 2005, the institute has joined with the task force and the Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene School Districts to bring together the area fifth graders for an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Children’s Program.

The institute’s exhibit the first year was The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Art Exhibit. In late 2006, it offered the Anne Frank Exhibit, which drew hundreds of area students, as well as the public.

Recent HREI exhibits have included one on the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis, a traveling exhibit of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and a Civil Rights Museum exhibit, featuring the Emmett Louis Till Murder Trial in honor of Black History Month.  It is on display through June.

Last month, they hosted a freedom rider from the civil rights era and offered a program with women reenacting some notable women in U.S. history.

From July through September 2015, the institute will host a traveling exhibit from the Ore-gon Cultural Heritage Museum entitled “Uprooted – Japanese Internment Camp.”

James Meredith, who was shot while on a civil rights walk, an experience that helped galvanize support for the civil rights movement, will speak in Coeur d’Alene on October 16 and then in Moscow the next day.

Anneliese said the institute’s other programs include a Wednesday evening book club, homeless and transgender vigils in November, inviting students to write Holocaust essays in the spring and funding four $1,000 scholarships for minority students at North Idaho College each year.

Scholarships and civil rights awards will both be presented at the HREI’s upcoming annual Human Rights Banquet.  It begins with a reception at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m., Monday, April 13, at the Coeur d’Alene Inn, 506 W. Appleway. 

Rock Hill, S.C., Mayor Doug Echols will be the 2015 keynote speaker, telling how people in his city corrected a racial injustice 54 years later. The Friendship 9, eight African-American junior college students and Thomas Gaither from the Congress on Racial Equality staged a sit-in at a local lunch counter in 1961.  For “trespassing and breach of peace” when they challenged the store’s “whites only” segregation policy, they were sentenced and chose to serve 30 days of hard labor. 

On Jan. 28 this year, Rock Hill Municipal Court Judge John Hayes vacated their sentences.  Their actions changed sit-ins for the civil rights period to a “jail, not bail” tactic.

The judge said, “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.”

The mayor, who has been an educator and administrator in public schools and higher education, is in his fifth term.

HREI board members are active, organizing events and speaking at programs.

HREI’s acting director, Lisa Manning, brings energy and passion for human rights to her position, and she has been instrumental in procuring recent exhibits, said Anneliese, who is an architect with Miller Stauffer Architects.

Anneliese’s mother had encouraged her interest in architecture by taking her to Spokane to see places like the Campbell House, the Patsy Clark House, the Museum of Arts and Culture and other architecture in Brown’s Addition.  Her grandmother and mother influenced her to be a life-long learner.

Prejudged because she is a blonde female, Anneliese tries not to judge others.  Travel in developing countries has also changed her perspectives.

“I want everyone to feel welcome,” she said, expressing her passion for education and human rights.

For information, call 208-292-2359 or visit www.hrei.org.



Copyright © April 2015 - The Fig Tree