A new day for HREI

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We're going to miss Dan LePow, who seemingly arrived in town just yesterday.

But reading between the lines, his departure after less than 11 months as head of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene seems to be telling several stories, or one story with several plots. He's reportedly gone to greener pastures in Texas, but the question of his fundraising success here lingers unanswered.

We are ardent supporters of human rights causes in general and HREI in particular. What's more basic and essential than one's right to live peacefully and enjoy the same opportunities in life that are guaranteed to others? But something seems amiss with HREI. The organization has had difficulty finding the right fit for executive director, but there's more to it than that. As one metaphor illustrates, it sometimes seems that HREI's ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. And that might be a big part of the reason fundraising is even more of a challenge than these difficult economic times should dictate.

HREI has plenty going for it. People are passionate about the cause. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, in its fundraising banquet last month for HREI, packed the house with hundreds who wanted to hear from Mahatma Gandhi's grandson. But as important as HREI's educational programs are for issues like international peace, women's rights and children's safety, there is a sense in the community that in its keen desire to help HREI, the task force might actually be holding it back.

We believe greater delineation between the two organizations is needed, whether that's structural, a matter of changing public perception or both. HREI is trying to grow into a broad-based human rights education organization, while the task force seems stuck on racism and its glory days of bringing down Richard Butler and his band of Aryan misfits.

Ignoring history may guarantee that it's repeated, but living in the past assures one never progresses. In our view, there is too much emphasis from the task force on what was, and not enough on what is or what can be. Constantly reliving the rise and fall of Butler's pathetic little empire does more than keep the past alive and give it ever greater significance in the annals of North Idaho; it reopens wounds among a compassionate populace. And it provides parasitic modern-day racists with the attention they must have to survive.

The blurry line between HREI and the Human Rights Task Force should be clarified and clear separation achieved. If HREI is to fulfill its mission - "We celebrate diversity and promote human rights by educating, raising awareness and inspiring transformation in our community" - then it must be able to focus on what's ahead, not behind.

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