IS members represent nonprofits, foundations, and corporations engaged in every kind of charitable endeavor, with missions that reflect the myriad of ways that we work for the common good and make the world a better place.
New member Human Rights for Kids seeks to promote and protect human rights for children. The organization uses a human rights intersectional model to address issues affecting children’s holistic development. We talked with James Dold, CEO and Founder of Human Rights for Kids. James also was a finalist for the 2019 American Express NGen Leadership Award.
Q. Tell us a little bit about your career path and how you arrived at your present position.
JD: After law school, I started my first job at the Polaris Project, a nonprofit fighting human trafficking. This work introduced me to the intersectionality between human trafficking and other issues such as early childhood trauma and the connection to the criminal justice system. It also made me aware of the need to bring awareness and compassion to these issues through a human rights lens.
For me personally, I know how it feels to grow up in a house or community where you’re the only person that graduated from high school. Thinking back to my own experiences and actions, and the actions of those around me in my own life, encouraged me to focus on addressing the root causes of these issues in my work.
Q. What does a typical day for you at Human Rights for Kids look like? Was there a day you remember that was extraordinary?
JD: The great thing about my work is that I don’t think I have a typical day. Recently for example, I gave a presentation to childhood advocates in Baltimore, trying to inspire people to continue to advocate for children and think of the kids they are trying to help as all of our kids.
There are days where most of my time is spent doing legal briefs and legal research. There are times when there is a lot of work that is specifically related to fundraising, and sometimes those fundraising meetings are actually fun. There are also times where I travel the country and advocate for different laws and policies. Then there are days I spend on Capitol Hill. It varies quite a bit. The fun thing for me is that I get to be a jack of all trades and I’m constantly learning.
I remember August 27th of this year because it’s when we submitted our first amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States. That same day, The Hill newspaper ran an op-ed we wrote with the R Street Institute meant to inspire bipartisan support. We also targeted different branches of government that day. We got a glimpse into the power of the organization and what it could stand for, and saw policymakers come together to urge the court to protect kids.
This also was right around the time of the Twitter Town Hall that I participated in along with the other American Express NGen Leadership Award finalists. That was an exciting time for me and the organization’s work.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in your organization and how have you responded to them?
JD: Other than fundraising, one of the biggest challenges — because our mission is so broad — is we can get pulled in a lot of different directions. It can be challenging to zero in and focus on where we can have the most impact on human rights for children.
Q. How do you remain empowered in your role and continue to empower others?
JD: We’re big dreamers. We want to create a world that is fundamentally different 40 years from now because of what we did for children, and society is inherently better. As Robert Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” Our policies, our actions, and the way we approach children are done with love. We get rid of this notion that there are some kids that deserve to be locked away. We hope that people will join us in that effort.
Q. What’s your favorite place in your community?
JD: Probably just being with my fiancée and our cat. When I am with her and our cat, named Foresight, everything falls away. Their fun, joviality, and joy — that’s my refuge and where I can recharge. When we first started dating, my fiancée said I had to have foresight in our relationship, and when I first got our cat it might have shown a lack of foresight, it (hopefully) demonstrated my commitment to her.
Q: Is there an unsung hero on your team or in your office you’d like to shout out?
JD: Our Board President, Suzanne La Pierre, has been a human rights lawyer for a very long time. She was heavily involved in helping to develop the amicus brief and the theories that we use to support our work. As well, we can depend on her to be a steady voice and to provide support. I think it’s really helpful when you have mentors and champions. We certainly wouldn’t exist without her leadership.
Our board of directors overall is the oil that makes the engine run. They have helped to create this value system that transcends partisan allegiance. Having an active board means I have a really great well of people to draw on for insight and support.