A Rochester Institute of Technology graduate and leader in New York’s farmworker human rights movement received the 2012 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
Librada Paz ’03 (mechanical engineering technology) is a western New York council member for the Rural and Migrant Ministry, a 31-year-old organization that focuses on erasing the systemic violence and human rights violations that America’s farmworkers and migrant laborers face. She also is a former farmworker herself.
“I do not have the words to describe how honored I feel to receive this award,” says the Brockport, N.Y., resident. “I wasn’t expecting that high of an honor.”
The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was established in 1984 to recognize people who stand up to oppression at grave personal risk in the nonviolent pursuit of human rights. Paz joins 43 others from 26 countries as the recipient of the 29th annual prize. She received the award during a presentation on Nov. 14 in Washington, D.C.
At the age of 15, Paz and her sister migrated from Mexico to the United States and began working in the fields. She lived with large groups of people in sub-standard housing, worked long hours in grueling heat and moved between New York and Florida to follow seasonal crops. As a young female farmworker, she was the victim of physical and sexual abuse.
She settled in New York after 15 years and obtained her immigration status. That is also when she pursued her dream of going to college and selected RIT after talking to professors, who helped her zero in on mechanical engineering technology.
Paz says she continued working in the fields to pay for RIT. She also raised her son, Brandon Nieves, who is now a hospitality student in the College of Applied Science and Technology.
“For me it was amazing to graduate from a private school like RIT,” she says.
Martin Gordon, an associate professor in CAST, says Paz was one of the most inspirational students he has known.
“This is a great example of someone using their RIT education in unexpected ways,” Gordon says. “The Mechanical Engineering Technology program has always prepared its students to solve real-world problems. Libby has certainly been instrumental in tackling a very difficult real-world problem.”