ELAB Profile Interview: Marvelous Maeze

The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of its author and do not necessarily reflect the policies, positions, or work of Human Rights First.

In our second ELAB profile, Nicole Munson interviews Marvelous Maeze, our Executive Co-Chair and Chair of our DEI committee.  Marvelous, a research associate at the gender parity organization RepresentWomen, is a human rights defender specializing in international human rights and humanitarian law, counterterrorism, climate and environmental policy, transitional justice, and women’s rights. 

Nicole: How and when did you become involved in human rights work?

Marvelous: I grew up in a household that really valued altruism and benevolence. So, I always knew that I wanted to engage in work that would benefit the most marginalized members of society. For me, it started with doing a lot of volunteer work in my free time and that led me to learn about and connect with charitable organizations, NGOs, and eventually IGOs as well. 

Nicole: Any specific issue in particular that captured you?

Marvelous: My mom and I formed a small personal NGO out of Dallas, Texas. Our main issue was poverty alleviation. We would collect clothing and household items, and distribute food. We planned to take it global, and then I decided I wanted to do this type of work professionally. I don’t want to only do this on the weekends. That required me to get an education. I think, for me, my education is really what led me specifically into human rights work. That’s when I learned about organizations like the United Nations. So, I joined UNICEF at my school, and that led me to Human Rights First.

Nicole: I saw that you developed a concentration in counterterrorism while you were at Columbia studying human rights. Can you tell us more about what sparked your interest in this area of study, and why it’s important for the human rights work that you do?

Marvelous: I’m Nigerian; I was born in Nigeria. I am a naturalized American citizen and an Immigrant. Back home, we have major issues with terrorist organizations like Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African province. I know people personally that were impacted by their activities. While writing my Master’s thesis about Boko Haram, I conducted extensive research regarding internally displaced persons camps for girls and women who escaped or were otherwise liberated from Boko Haram. That led me to realize that so much of what I was doing was based on counterterrorism. Yes, it’s women’s rights. Yes, the remedial outcome will need to deal with transitional justice, but ultimately it’s like, how do we prevent this in the first place? That’s how I became interested in international peace and security.

That led me to the work I’ve been doing with the United Nations, where I have accepted an internship. It isn’t just an issue of safety and security, but there are social and economic implications, and obviously, it’s not down to a perfect science. We still make mistakes. We can lack foresight. We still have issues with the military-industrial complex and corrupt corporate and political actors with nefarious intentions. However, I believe we are all stakeholders and should all be invested in the promotion of ethical and effective methods of counterterrorism. 

Nicole: It really is a holistic way to look at the work human rights activists are doing. I’m curious to hear what is something that motivates you in this stage of life?

Marvelous: I think what’s more intrinsic or inherent to me is that I’m really motivated by the human condition. How incredible we all are and our capacity for greatness but then how flawed we all are and our capacity for wickedness. And how we’re all interconnected. I think about how I can, as an advocate, use my skills to shine a spotlight on those who have experienced discrimination, hardship, or injustice due to the flaws in the human condition. 

Nicole: It is definitely very motivating to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and how they are all tied together. You mentioned earlier about being engaged in women’s rights work. I’d love to hear when you got engaged with that in particular, and why you feel this is an important pursuit?

Marvelous: Honestly, I feel like I never opted in. I think that being a Black woman, I was made acutely aware of the importance of advancing human rights because of the various forms of gender and race-based forms of discrimination that I’ve faced throughout my life. I will say I became very interested in politics and scholarship where women, particularly women of color, were historically underrepresented. So, I felt it was important to be in those spaces and add my perspectives. I began with student organizations when I was an undergraduate student at NYU, I represented women of color campus-wide as an elected senator. This gave me a lot of wonderful public speaking opportunities both in and outside of academia. This led me to work where I began to advocate for women candidates in New York and nationally, leading me to work for an organization called RepresentWomen

Nicole: I’d also love to know what lessons has your work life taught you?

Marvelous: Aside from teaching me a lot about human beings, it’s taught me that your job doesn’t define you. Your work doesn’t define you. If you are lucky, you’ll get to work in a field that you are passionate about, and that helps the advancement of humanity. That’s what we are all trying to do in ELAB. I think that my decision to work in human rights has taught me that I’m a complete person even before my career is factored in and that I have hobbies and passions that bring me joy and make life fulfilling. As the world begins to normalize, or at least as we embrace our “new normal” I’ve started doing all of my favorite things. Going to museums, dance classes, and going to cooking lessons. Getting out of town when I can—spending time in nature, exploring little wonders. So, when I return to the world of human rights, it puts it all in perspective because it humanizes the people we are fighting for. I remember that they also have the right to enjoy their hobbies and pursue their passions. They shouldn’t have to live with their rights being violated. It reminds me of why I am doing this work in the first place.


Published on April 3, 2023


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