HICKORY — The Catawba Valley Interfaith Council (CVIC) is hosting its fifth annual Human Rights Day commemoration at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church ELCA (2259 12th Ave. NE in Hickory) on Dec. 1.

The service begins at 3 p.m. and will be followed by a short reception with warm cider and cookies. This year’s keynote speaker is Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and chief executive officer of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) with offices in Baltimore.

Since its founding in 1939, LIRS has worked to uphold the uniquely American ideal that welcoming immigrants from across the globe with open arms is essential to our nation’s progress and prosperity. “The question we must ask ourselves today,” said Vignarajah, “is whether we remain that great nation. Whether we will be defined by walls and cages or by bridges and opportunity” for immigrants and refugees.

A refugee from civil war herself, Vignarajah was appointed to her current role in February of this year. She came to the United States with her parents when she was 9 years old. Educated in Baltimore public schools, she studied at Yale University and law school and at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar. She taught international law at Georgetown University as an adjunct professor. She worked at McKinsey & Co., practiced law at Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C.; and clerked for Chief Judge Michael Boudin on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

More recently, Vignarajah served as policy director for Michelle Obama and led the President’s and first lady’s signature Let Girls Learn initiative. Before the White House, she served as senior adviser at the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, where she coordinated development and implementation of multiple programs including those concerning refugees and migration, engagement with religious communities, the legal dimensions of U.S. foreign policy, and regional issues relating to Africa and the Middle East.

“Now more than ever, we are excited to have someone with her background and knowledge about the experience of immigrant and refugee communities in the United States,” said Rabbi Dennis Jones, president of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council.

“We couldn’t ask for a more qualified speaker at this time to address this important and pressing issue in the context of our fifth commemoration of Human Rights Day in Hickory.”

In December of 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the aftermath of the Second World War. Articles 13, 14, and 15 specifically address internal and external migration and national identity, including the “right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” This historic event is celebrated each December as Human Rights Day.

CVIC is a local not-for-profit organization of faith-based and secular communities in the Catawba Valley serving as a catalyst for hope and cooperating for the purpose of dialogue, information sharing, and celebration. Their purpose is to create a more compassionate community and honor the rich diversity of religious, spiritual, and secular traditions in the community. The public is invited to attend this free event.

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