20th Anniversary Alumni Reflections: Kori Stephens
In celebration of the Human Rights Program's 20th Anniversary, Kori Stephens (B.A. Global Studies & French Studies ‘09, M.P.H. ‘13) recently shared with us her reflections on her time with the HRP and the impact it had on her career path.
Human Rights Program (HRP): What did you do with the Human Rights Program while you were a student at the University of Minnesota?
Kori Stephens (KS): My connection to the Human Rights Program began as a student in the undergraduate minor, taking classes and participating in the internship program where I got connected to the Advocates for Human Rights. During this time I learned about the Save Yar Campaign that had recently evolved into a student group called Child Protection International (CPI). I started volunteering for CPI and shortly found myself in the role of Director helping to organize our efforts around child abductions in South Sudan. This included meeting with members of the UN, MN state representatives and members of the South Sudanese community to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and realities for South Sudanese youth in their home country and in the US. During my senior year I began working with HRP as a Program Associate helping with communications and coordination for both the graduate and undergraduate programs.
HRP: How did your work with the HRP affect your career path?
KS: My experience at HRP created a strong foundation that my entire career has been built on. Whenever I'm speaking in front of large groups or talking about my background, I always mention my roots in human rights and the foundational education and experience I received through HRP. Shortly after I graduated I started working with a local NGO, Shelter for Life, in the international development space supporting economic and infrastructure development in the Middle East, West Africa and South Sudan. While I had always thought I would love working on international human rights, I felt disconnected from those I was serving and started looking for something local to MN. That's when I came across a job posting at Children's Minnesota for their Midwest Regional Children's Advocacy Center program. My programmatic work at HRP in addition to my experience working on issues involving child rights is what won me the job and I stayed with MRCAC for 11 years. During my time at MRCAC and within Children's Minnesota I began to see a deeper connection between public health and human rights. It was the first time that I was working within the US child welfare and criminal justice systems and had a front row seat to the complexities, challenges and dysfunctions of those systems that ultimately impacted the health and wellbeing of our community. My foundation in human rights helped me to bring new language to the field of child abuse and to see opportunities for creating a stronger connection between our work and social justice and transformative change.
HRP: What are you doing now?
KS: In January 2021, I decided to step out on my own after 11 years at Children's Minnesota. In some part, this was due to significant moral distress and constraints that I experienced administering a grant from the Federal Government during the Trump administration. We were highly censored in what we could and could not publish and write about in our trainings and resources for child abuse professionals. We could not use terminology like historical trauma, racism, implicit bias, micro-aggressions, to name a few.
During my time working with leaders in the child abuse field, I was witness to the impact of burnout and vicarious trauma on their ability to create positive, inclusive and supportive cultures for the people doing the work. In the child abuse movement we focus on building resiliency in the families we serve, but we have a long way to go to provide that same tending to resiliency within our own organizational cultures. For many leaders, they haven't received any formal training or have worked their entire career putting work first and sacrificing their own wellbeing in the process. This is not a sustainable way to build a transformative movement. In October 2020, I established Resonance Rising with the mission to amplify the resilience of communities by empowering radically aligned leaders. Today I support leaders, change agents and high-impact organizations through one-on-one coaching, consultation and transformational group experiences.
If you would like to connect with Kori you can find her on LinkedIn