A life devoted to uprooting injustice

NEW ULM – Ingrid Liedman, a retired English teacher and human rights advocate, credits her personal quest to end injustice in part to a conviction imparted to her by her now 96-year-old mother.

“She taught me that, when one is born into a better life, one has the moral responsibility in every way to help and support those who aren’t,” says Liedman.

Liedman will receive the New Ulm Human Rights Commission’s 2013 Human Rights Award, at a reception at the Lind House on Thursday, March 27. The reception starts at 4:30 p.m. with an award ceremony at 5 p.m. The event is open to the public.

Liedman has been engaged in a variety of causes – but perhaps dearest to her heart has been the issue of women’s rights.

“I experienced [gender discrimination] in a small way only – but I saw in a large way what life is like when you face discrimination,” says Liedman.

“The obligation to fight for what’s right certainly got me off of being shy.”

Liedman was a key organizer of Women’s Awareness Day, an independent conference for women’s empowerment. The event, held every other year, lasted 12 years, and attracted more than 100 women attendees every year.

It’s just one piece in a life devoted to uprooting injustice. Liedman is also being recognized for her work with the Peace Corps in Tanzania; her involvement in hosting foreign exchange students and promoting inter-cultural understanding; her ground-breaking participation in creating a local policy framework in support of human rights; her focus, as a teacher, on expanding her students’ minds with a world-view; and, most recently, her advocacy for the elderly.

“My Peace Corps experience showed me that there are many different worlds and there are many ways to live happily,” says Liedman.

“It showed me how similar people all over the world are, finding their families precious, going to work every day, liking to eat, enjoying movies and music, just like us.

“It also gave me an insight into how it feels to live as a minority, even though it was a privileged one, and it underscored that work needed to be done to help to even out life for the protected classes, which the Human Rights Commission fights for, especially gender, physical handicaps and ethnic backgrounds.”

Liedman served on committees with American Field Services Intercultural Programs, preparing foreign exchange students for the experience, finding families and ensuring hosting situations worked well. She held International Weekends hosting up to 52 foreign students from southern Minnesota, any program, to help with cultural misunderstandings.

She and husband Lowell opened their home to seven foreign exchange students over time – including two Muslim students, an “out-of-the-box” move at the time, and the first Russian to live in a small American town. The Liedmans consider these students their sons and daughters – and have kept in touch with each one over many years.

Liedman also tutored Asian refugee students – who went on to lead successful lives in their adopted country.

She served on the New Ulm Human Rights Commission for five years, including one as president. As part of this commitment, she worked on gaining assess ability for handicapped people in restaurants and public buildings and on establishing a protocol for the city in case of hate crimes.

Liedman’s teaching had a heavy accent on human rights and was world-view centered.

She initiated and organized the New Ulm Junior High on TV. The students involved in the activity were volunteers with no voice in the school or society, and the show gave them an opportunity to grow.

Liedman hosted a Chinese student-teacher exchange experience at the school, so her students had a chance to become well-acquainted with someone from China.

Providing daily care to her elderly mother for the past several years, Liedman has been concentrating on research and experience in aging and dementia. She has been a voice for VINE Faith in Action, an interfaith volunteer caregiving organization serving older adults, people with disabilities and individuals and families in difficult life situations. She and her mother recently participated in a Mankato United Way video, highlighting issues facing individuals in need of care and caregivers.

While it is uncomfortable to air personal issues in public, it sometimes has to be done, to help other people in similar situations, mused Liedman, in reference to the video.

It is not always easy to stand up for what you believe in, says Liedman.

“I am fortunate – because I have Lowell.

“He is my sounding board; he has always encouraged me to follow what I thought was right.”

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