Atlanta human rights leaders inspired by civil rights movement

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ATLANTA - A picture of a 10-year-old married Ethiopian girl haunts local aid workers.  It also pushes them to fight for a world where instead of becoming child brides, little girls become students.

Theresa Hwang works on girls' rights around the globe through the Atlanta-based nonprofit CARE International.

“If you unlock the potential of half of the population, it's amazing to see what communities can actually do," Hwang said.

Hwang wasn't even born when Atlanta's civil rights leaders were on the front lines, but she feels their momentum.

"It's so helpful to have some legs to stand on, and to have a culture of activism and people thinking of rights and discrimination and what the negative effects are, and some ways to address it,"  Hwang added.

Visitors to Atlanta's new Center for Civil and Human Rights are challenged to connect with the faces of people now leading the way to greater equality.  One of the exhibits features a mirror so visitors can identify with people like themselves -- male, female, Jewish, Muslim, gay or straight.

While visiting the center, Justin Ziegler and Ryan Peterson chose a reflection for gay rights.

"I may be afraid someone may call me a fag or something along those lines, but I've never been afraid of being murdered," Peterson said.

Ziegler pushed the rights fight forward through a shelter that brings LGBT youth off the streets. People like Peterson pitch in to raise money at the group's Lost and Found consignment store.

Peterson is HIV positive, fighting an addiction to methamphetamine and grateful for the grace of a second chance.

"Every day my emotions are coming back and I'm able to feel things again," Peterson said. "Every day I wake up and I'm so glad to be alive."

Ziegler said he uses that for motivation. He believes complacency is a current stumbling block, and urged the younger generation in metro Atlanta to pick up the baton from civil rights greats to carry equality forward.

“Absolutely I'm hopeful, especially after seeing this, to see where we are now compared to where we were or where we could be, seeing people around the world who dream of being in a world where they have situations and opportunity like we have," Ziegler said.