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Meet Nalat Phanit Black

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nalat Phanit Black.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Nalat. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
By the time I graduated high school, I saw the beautiful side of people and how we can live harmoniously amongst one another and with our natural environment. But I also witnessed the negligence and hatred that people can possess. The Columbine High School massacre of 1999 was the first time I learned that kids have the power to change the world for better or for worse. On September 11, 2001, I heard the plane that flew into the World Trade Center in New York City, saw the collapse of the North Tower, breathed in the ashy air for weeks, wondering why such hatred exists. Graduating eight months after the attack, I felt that it was my duty to encourage a more peaceful world.

I’ve been volunteering and performing community service since freshman year of high school. In the beginning, I didn’t acknowledge the benefits of volunteering because it was part of the curriculum, I had to fulfill community service hours in order to graduate. Throughout my high school experience, I had planned to stop volunteering, looking forward to the time that I could “save” for myself. But after September 11, 2001, volunteering became my outlet to engage with my community, to have a sense of purpose that is just more than school and work, to maintain hope that a more peaceful and sustainable world is achievable. I continued to volunteer for various organizations during my undergraduate studies, during my first salaried job, and during my graduate studies. And that’s when I figured out my purpose that I was content with.

During my graduate studies, I was introduced to the United Nations Association of USA by a professor who convinced me to volunteer at one of the Philadelphia Chapter’s events, the 60th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. Two hours later, I signed up to be a member and took on the role of the Membership Communications Assistant. The people that I met that evening was full of energy, passion, hopefulness, and the common goal to create a more peaceful world through the United Nations’ principles and work. It felt like home to me.

After spending several years working at non-profits, moving from cities to a rural town back to a city, I realized that my interest lies in sustainability. I believe that when human development and the natural environment work harmoniously, basic human needs would be met by all, lessening the potential for human rights violations and creating a more peaceful world. Atlanta became my home city a few years ago and I am honored to work with some changemakers, fellow Atlantans advocating for a sustainable city. In 2015, the United Nations Association of Atlanta created the Sustainable Development Goals Committee (previously known as the Millennium Development Goals Committee) as a way to promote the United Nations’ global goals on a local level. As the Sustainable Development Goals Director, I am working with a diverse group of volunteers, SDG Advocates, implementing educational opportunities that highlight solutions to the global goals on a local level. Some topics that we’ve tackled include poverty, public health, climate action, nuclear nonproliferation, gender inequality, and peace building. We partner with local organizations, universities, K-12 schools, NGOs and governmental agencies on projects. The support and encouragement that I received from all over Atlanta for our chapter’s activities show that Atlantans believe we can flourish as global citizens right at home.

Has it been a smooth road?
I can’t recall a single moment in history where defending human rights or sustainability was a smooth journey. It continues to be a tumultuous ride on an individual, local, national, and global scale. Twelve years ago, I got into some pretty heated discussions with climate change deniers. I was labeled “tree hugger,” “liberal,” “idealistic,” and “out of touch with reality.” Communicating on climate change, climate mitigation and action, became my passion. However, I was doing it wrong. I was trying to change people’s mindsets and behaviors without understanding their values and perspectives. I wasn’t looking for a common ground to connect on. Luckily I met a few people who taught me to communicate more effectively, not to take things so personally, to let defeats be lessons so I can make better decisions in the future.

Lack of resources to implement ideas has been a long-standing challenge in my non-profit experience. I entered the non-profit field immediately after the Great Recession (2007-2009) where many non-profits were closing its doors. Great ideas never had the chance to be implemented because of lack of funds, public interest, expertise, morale amongst employees and other stakeholders. In the non-profit field, it is very important to acknowledge the strengths that the organization has, especially its people. Utilize the people’s passion, voice, time, and modern technology to create positive impacts.

Loss of hope is the greatest challenge that pops up now and then. Sometimes it seems that the impact I make is miniscule. I start questioning if the journey I’m on is a foolish one because I’ve taken on the Herculean task of “saving the world.” The sense of hopelessness becomes palatable when my peers also start to doubt that the actions they’ve taken do not create a positive change. The situation becomes worse if we’re also faced with outside challenges that we cannot control such as an economic recession, war, pandemics. It is immensely helpful to be connected to other individuals who share the same passion as I do and their energy keeps me motivated. As a member of the United Nations Association of Atlanta, I am connected to global citizens from across the United States and the world. They are striving towards the same goal, connected to an abundance of knowledge, connected to a network of changemakers.

Please tell us about the organization.
United Nations Association of Atlanta (UNA-Atlanta) is dedicated to educating, inspiring, and mobilizing Americans to support the principles and vital work of the United Nations and its agencies. UNA-Atlanta provides its members with educational and advocacy opportunities on United Nations related projects. We take global conversations and translate them into local talks and activities that are accessible to all individuals. UNA-Atlanta works closely with the national chapter, United Nations Association of USA, and the UN Foundation in fostering the American and UN relationship from influencing policy changes to humanitarian aid. We’ve provided guest speakers to K-12 and university institutions, assisted in hosting Model UN, performed community service with local organizations, hosted panel discussions and lectures. Representatives from Atlanta also attended UNA-USA’s Global Leadership Summit in Washington, DC annually. In 2019, the Global Leadership Summit brought together 500 advocates from all 50 states for a record-breaking 322 Congressional meetings! UNA-Atlanta members also attended UNA-USA’s Global Engagement Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City annually. In 2019, the Global Engagement Summit was attended by 1800 Americans to discuss solutions to global challenges and support the United Nation’s vital work. We’re continuing to grow our programs locally, partnering with multiple Atlanta-based organizations. We’re also looking forward to providing more opportunities to Atlanta youths to experience the United Nations by working on human rights solutions, climate action, peace building, and visiting the United Nations in New York City.

UNA-Atlanta created the Sustainable Development Goals Committee (previously known as the Millennium Development Goals Committee) in 2015 as a way to promote the United Nations’ global goals on a local level. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is a blueprint for governments, businesses, organizations to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all during 2015-2030. The global goals address challenges that all nations face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. UNA-Atlanta’s SDG Committee is comprised of a diverse group of volunteers, SDG Advocates, ranging from students to retirees, who are creating educational events and projects that highlight solutions to the global goals on a local level.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
United Nations Association of USA currently has over 20,000 members (60% under the age of 26), more than 200 chapters across the country, and growing. Our members support the strengthening of the United Nations system, promoting constructive US leadership in that system, and achieving the goals set forth in the UN Charter. One of the reasons why our membership is growing is because of recent global crises that require global responses. The United Nations is an effective organization in bringing together nations to find solutions.

In recent years where we’ve seen public health crises (2014-2016 West African Ebola virus epidemic, 2019 COVID-19 pandemic), several UN agencies aided communities and nations. While writing this response, The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the global fight against COVID-19. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is supporting governments for distance learning, scientific cooperation, and information support.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, witnessed the highest level of forcibly displaced people in 2019 at 70.8 million people. Among them are 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. We are living in a world where nearly one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. Climate change, political instability, economic instability will put more people at risk of being displaced. UNHCR employs 16,803 people, of whom around 90% are based in the field, working in 134 countries, helping the displaced in various ways such as legal protection, administration, community services, public affairs and health.

I expect that there will be more public demand for the United Nations to solve complex, urgent, dire issues based on current global events. It will take a global response to solve these issues, including poverty, hunger, gender inequality, lack of clean water and sanitation, climate change. There will be more public discussions about the United States’ role in solving these global issues. United Nations Association of Atlanta is expanding our outreach, educational programs, and advocacy opportunities. We are a local organization that unifies people to support the vital work of the United Nations. Through our local actions, we create global impact.

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Image Credit:
United Nations Association of Atlanta

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