Professor Mariana Ferreira, Alum-Founded Nonprofit Win National Human-Rights Award

Thursday, December 07, 2017
Photos of Mimi Lok and Mariana Ferreira

Human Rights Educators USA recently announced the winners of its Edward O’Brien Award for Human Rights Education, and both have ties to San Francisco State. Professor Mariana Ferreira is the recipient of the award for individual achievement. Voice of Witness, a San Francisco nonprofit co-founded and directed by alum Mimi Lok, won the organizational award.

Established in 2015 in memory of pioneering human-rights educator Edward O’Brien, this award honors an individual and an organization that have made an outstanding contribution to human-rights education in the U.S. This year’s awards were presented November 18 in San Francisco during the National Council for the Social Studies’ annual conference.

Mariana Ferreira

Mariana Ferreira is a professor in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies. A medical anthropologist originally from Brazil, she uses critical theory, including theatre and pedagogy of the oppressed, to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples and other minorities in North and South America.

Since 2004 she has organized annual human-rights summits at SF State. Under her leadership, her students in Anthropology and Liberal Studies have written and performed more than 350 plays that address human-rights issues they face daily. The audience for Ferreira’s teaching manuals, theatre plays, zines, manifestos, graphic novels and academic articles and books on human rights — in English, Portuguese and Spanish — include high-school students and other community members.

Ferreira’s most recent books include Mapping Time, Space and the Body: Indigenous Knowledge and Mathematical Thinking in Brazil (Sense Publishers, 2015) and Acting for Indigenous Rights: Theatre to Change the World (Minnesota Human Rights Center, 2013).

“I witnessed Ferreira’s work as a math and human-rights educator in Brazil (working in dire conditions during the military dictatorship, 1964 –1985),” an O’Brien Award nominator writes. “ … Since her doctorate at Berkeley, her work as a human-rights educator has supported curricula in public schools on indigenous reservations in North and South America. … Now, more than ever, I believe in her mantra: ‘If you don’t know your rights, you don’t have any!’”

Voice of Witness

Voice of Witness advances human rights by amplifying the voices of people affected by injustice, through its acclaimed oral-history book series and education program.

Mimi Lok (M.F.A., Creative Writing, ’07), the executive director, founded the organization with writer Dave Eggers and physician Lola Vollen. She has won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Social Progress, Changemaker Award and Miriam Ylvisaker Fellowship in Fiction.

The Voice of Witness education program brings the human-rights narratives and issues portrayed in the book series into schools and universities throughout the U.S. It serves more than 20,000 people annually, providing training to a broad range of advocates for human rights and dignity, including educators, writers, journalists, documentary filmmakers, attorneys and medical doctors. The program also includes a specialized focus on English-language learners.


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