As the new executive director of the Human Rights Education Institute, Tom Carter believes the way to solve problems is through communication, and that requires education.
He came to the HREI with a mandate from the institute’s board of directors to bring viability and sustainability to the organization.
So his job entails working with the board to raise funds, build community involvement and encourage visitors to stand up for human rights, tolerance and respect for everyone.
The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations created the institute in 1998 as its educational arm. Since 2005, the HREI has operated out of a historic building in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
HREI’s values resonate with Carter: human rights, education, dignity, diversity, inclusivity and partnerships. He and the board envision programs to help educators, support students and broaden businesses by teaching tolerance, diversity and cultural awareness in this community and beyond.
The institute began with an endowment that has funded the work since its inception. Now, however, the board recognized the need for an executive director with business acumen as well as a passion for human rights.
Carter brings more than 20 years of experience in education, business development and training. He earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Gonzaga University in 1995 and a master’s in teaching from Whitworth University in 2001. He was headmaster at a private boys school for more than 16 years. He also previously owned a small business.
He has put his business skills to work by cutting spending 72 percent, turning down heat in the winter and opening windows in the summer. He also finds grants to cover costs of the programs.
“Our goal is to raise money to keep the institute going,” he said. “The HREI can no longer rely on the endowment. We’re being efficient. We receive no state or federal funding. Our funds are from private donors or grants.”
Programs include human rights education for children in K-12 school programs, using a curriculum the HREI offers. It also hosts a Martin Luther King Jr. Children’s Week Program.
For middle school and high school students, its Young Advocates for Human Rights program offers speakers, field trips and community service.
Carter’s passion for human rights began in his childhood.
“I’ve seen it as an issue ever since I was a child,” he reflected. “I grew up in a multicultural family. My mother is Hispanic. We lived in the Oakland, Calif., area, which was culturally diverse. I saw people’s issues with diversity, but I never understood them.
“In my family, my father was bigoted. He regularly offered racial slurs,” said Carter, who chose to emulate his grandfather.
When Carter was 8, he moved to Spokane. Since then, the Northwest has been his home. While serving in the Marines, he lived in South Korea. He also spent time in Central America, Japan, Jamaica, Canada and Hawaii after he left the service. Carter and a friend worked with Aborigines in the Australian Outback in 2005.
He wants to help “people see people as people,” not as labels.
“Interaction with people educates us. Experience educates,” he said. “I’ve learned much from people who don’t have formal education, but have other kinds of wisdom.”