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What makes you a human rights defender? OR How did you become a human rights defender?

My life was forever altered in college when I had the chance to meet Ahmad Kathrada, an anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner, who spent nearly three decades behind bars with Nelson Mandela. Looking back now, that brief moment in time unequivocally changed the course of my life and galvanized a deep passion to work with, and stand alongside, the bravest people on earth who quite literally risk their lives to promote freedom and the basic human rights that many of us often take for granted. That is how I ultimately became the person — the human rights defender — that I am today.

What inspires you?

People inspire me. Plain and simple. Over the course of the past decade, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work closely with so many impassioned activists who operate on the front lines of advancing social change, typically at great personal risk. I have become close with political dissidents and activists who’ve spent months, even years, in prison; people who have been tortured and brutally mistreated by their governments, simply for raising questions, for being critical of a ruling party, policy, or individual leader. I cannot, in good conscience, stay quiet or give up while they continue the fight, knowing full well the potential consequences. That is what motivates me to get up and ready to go every morning. And that is what inspires me on a daily basis.

What is one issue or project that you are especially passionate about?

I am particularly passionate about working on highly repressive, smaller countries that are often overlooked, those that escape the international spotlight in spite of the widespread, systematic, and long-standing human rights abuses that have taken place. The Gambia and Swaziland, which is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, fit that category. Working on The Gambia has been particularly gratifying in the sense that we have made some real and measurable progress in just the past year alone. Gambian activists are tireless, they are energetic and are the most enthusiastic and appreciative group of people I’ve ever worked with. I’d go in the proverbial trenches with them any day of the week.