Cranston native Justin Bibee has devoted his life to the advancement of human rights.
His extensive resume includes time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, an intern with the United Nations Capital Development Fund in Tanzania and part of a team that built a school in Pakistan.
He currently works as coordinator of the Housing First program for Pathways Vermont, a nonprofit that supports people experiencing mental health issues and other challenges.
Meanwhile, Bibee is pursuing a doctorate in peace-building from Durban University of Technology in South Africa. He earned a master’s degree in the field from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, last year, after receiving a bachelor’s in justice studies from Rhode Island College in 2012.
Over the course of those travels and studies, Bibee has written extensively. As he completes work on his fifth book, titled “A Voice for Human Rights,” another of his works - “Human Rights. They Matter.” - has been nominated for a prestigious award through the Peace Corps.
“I often read quotes of people I admire; they inspire me,” Bibee said. “With this book, I hope to make a small but meaningful contribution to the fight for human rights - to raise awareness and inspire others to stand up for human rights.”
“Human Rights. They Matter.” contains 100 quotes from Bibee’s writings. It was, he said, compiled from journals, school papers, articles, speeches - “even things I’ve scribbled on random pieces of paper.”
“I went through my old journals from my experiences working in the field, whether it was working with refugees in Tanzania, youth in Morocco, education in Pakistan, people living with HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific Region, or people experiencing homelessness in the United States,” he said.
The process took roughly two years, as Bibee balanced his work on the book with his employment, studies, volunteer efforts and other human rights initiatives.
“It was also tough because as a human rights advocate, my work often takes me around the world working long hours in remote places on critically important issues,” he said.
Recently, Bibee’s work on the book was recognized with a nomination for the Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award, which was first presented in 1990. It honors the memory of the late Paul Cowan - a former Peace Corps volunteer, activist and writer - and is part of the annual Peace Corps Writing Awards.
Bibee is one of 15 nominees for the honor, and the winner will be announced in August.
“It was a complete surprise,” Bibee said of the nomination. “I was enjoying my morning coffee and reading the latest Peace Corps news before work and just happened to see it.”
Bibee said he is most excited at “the prospect of inspiring others” through his writing.
“I’m inspired when I read about others and their work,” he said. “I hope the same is true for others when they read about me and my work.”
A description from the book’s jacket reads: “Justin Bibee’s words impel change. They outline a practical way - the only way - to freedom and prosperity for all. His words help bring about a new consciousness on the part of all peoples that peace cannot progress without the respect for human rights.”
More information about the book is available on Bibee’s website, justinbibee.weebly.com.
In addition to his writing, Bibee hopes to make a positive difference in his hometown through one of his ongoing initiatives.
In 2018, while living with his wife in Hawaii, Bibee began an initiative called “Human Rights in Our Schools.” Through the effort, he donated a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 - to every school in Maui County.
Now, Bibee plans to donate a copy of the declaration to every school in Cranston. He sees the initiative as vital to raising awareness of human rights and furthering the cause of peace.
“I began this initiative because human rights are not discussed in schools. This needs to change,” Bibee said. “With human rights education, our youth will not only become more aware of their human rights, but become more aware of their responsibility in respecting the human rights of others.”
The educational focus is not new for Bibee. While serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco, he published a book titled “Human Rights in the Classroom: A Guide for Educators.” It provides toolkits and activities to be used in any educational setting, and is the first human rights training book to be accepted into the Peace Corps Library. It is available for free on Bibee’s website.
Bibee has been recognized locally and across the globe for his work on human rights issues. He has been honored by Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon, Gov. Gina Raimondo, members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation and many other elected leaders. He was also nominated in 2016 as a Forbes “30 Under 30” social entrepreneur finalist.
Ultimately, Bibee hopes those moments of recognition will - like his writing - generate continued awareness of the cause to which he has dedicated himself. He is specifically focused on reform of the Peace Corps Act of 1961 to establish a Human Rights Committee in every country in which the organization operates.
“Human rights education includes three elements - learning about human rights, learning for human rights, and learning through human rights,” he said. “In other words, students should become aware of an issue, concerned by the issue, and capable of standing up for the issue. We all have a life-long responsibility to defend human rights. I intend to fulfill that responsibility.”