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Celebration of human rights

Jack Wargi of International Tumblestone works on the new entrance to the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Jack Wargi of International Tumblestone works on the new entrance to the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday. (The Spokesman-Review)

A few days ago, workers stuck a 13,000-pound slab of granite in the ground in front of the old Battery building next to Coeur d’Alene City Park.

On Saturday, that slab and a vision for a regional – and maybe one day international – human rights center will be unveiled on International Human Rights Day.

It’s been four years since Greg Carr donated $1 million to the Human Rights Education Institute to build a center for human rights education in Coeur d’Alene – a town once branded as a hub of racism when Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler held court in neighboring Hayden Lake.

Carr, a native Idahoan and former chairman of the Prodigy Internet company, not only provided seed money for the institute’s home, but also purchased the 20-acre Aryan Nations compound in 2001 after Butler lost it in a $6.5 million judgment against the Aryan Nations. Carr turned the compound over to North Idaho College for a peace park.

And when he gave the Human Rights Education Institute $1 million to build a center for human rights in the heart of Coeur d’Alene, he gave the city an 11-foot slab of granite engraved with the International Declaration of Human Rights.

The slab was put up in front of the historic brick building that the institute is leasing from the city for its headquarters, while renovations continued on the former warehouse.

At Saturday’s grand opening, an architectural rendering of a new human rights institute building will be unveiled. The new building will incorporate the strongest portion of the old brick structure, said KJ Torgerson, acting executive director of the institute.

The new building will be a landmark for Coeur d’Alene and the central feature of the “four corners” intersection, which will serve as a sort of entrance to a future education corridor envisioned along the south side of Northwest Boulevard from Government Way to U.S. Highway 95.

Until the new building is constructed, the public will be able to use the remodeled Battery building for meetings, events and education. While Carr gave the seed money for the future building, more than two dozen businesses and individuals provided the materials and money to make the existing building habitable in the interim, Torgerson said.

On display in the gallery of the building beginning Saturday will be an exhibit of works by local artists that correspond with each of the 30 articles contained in the International Declaration of Human Rights, Torgerson said. Works by a dozen local artists are included in the exhibit, which will be on display through the winter.

The main room of the building also will host a speakers series beginning in the spring, complemented by the Dialogue in Democracy Forum, which will allow the community to explore and discuss issues related to human rights, Torgerson said.

Eventually, the center will include a resource library and computers for public use.

“We want to provide a lounge area,” she said. “Being next to the park, we hope to get a lot of people walking through.”

Although Mayor Sandi Bloem and local human rights leader Norm Gissel will speak at the event, Carr will be unable to because of a conflicting engagement in Africa, where he’s meeting with the president of Mozambique, Torgerson said.

The Carr Foundation, a philanthropic organization established by Carr, is working to restore Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.

The Human Rights Education Institute is the education arm of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and was established in 1998 by local human rights leaders. The institute has been active in recent years even without a public home, organizing speakers and events, sponsoring the Martin Luther King Jr. Day program, providing scholarships and other education opportunities in the community. The organization is hiring an executive director and administrative assistant. The institute’s first director, Rhys Johnson, left the position in summer after eight months on the job over what he and board members said were differences in vision.

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