Thiago Ansel. Crédito: Lucas Landau

The Virada’s people: Thiago Ansel, from Taquara to the UN

The young guy from Western Rio spent 4 hours on the bus to go to college, where he graduated. Today, he fights for human rights in a project of the UN

"I am moved by the stories of the young ones who die and there is no news about them in the newspaper. Only those labeled as "innocent" are highlighted. However, many more young ones die on a daily basis. The right to live is universal, no matter who you are and what you are doing. I have this dream of working on an equality perspective. I believe in doing and considering the people who have the same capacity as me. There is no complete equality, but we have to think about what we can do while understanding that everyone has the same access to reality.”


Thiago Ansel, 34, was born and raised in Taquara, a district in Western Rio de Janeiro where he currently lives. When he started college in Social Communication for Journalism, he spent over 4 hours on a bus everyday on his journey to Rio de Janeiro. What was meant to be a competitive disadvantage has become a favorable advantage. “I tried to use it as a benefit for me. I read a lot and when you spend so much time on a bus, you have time to read and study. That’s what I did,” he remembers. He says he has even developed a technique to keep on reading and taking notes when he didn’t have a seat.

For Ansel, going to college was a revolution in life. A lower middle-class young man, he worked as a clerk and van driver on a line to Bonsucesso, Northern Rio de Janeiro, to fund his studies. So much effort did not prevent him and his mother from taking loans to pay for college. He got into debt, but it was worth it. His final paper about the representation of slums in the media was so well evaluated that a teacher even questioned whether he had bought the paper.

It was a turning point in his life. Shortly after approval, he had a job offer from his academic advisor. It would be a traineeship, and the salary paid less than the work in the Bonsucesso vans, but Thiago accepted it anyway. "I wouldn’t have another chance to start in this field and I thought it was crazy to have taken Social Communication classes," Ansel recalls. That is how he entered the third sector, first in the non-governmental organization (NGO) Criola, promoting black women’s rights. Next, he worked in the Slums Observatory and Koinonia, an organization dedicated to supporting traditional communities.

Thiago had such an unusual journey, but it shows the values he advocates: the need for a careful look at the black youth of the outskirts. He graduated in this field at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) with a Master's and a Doctor's degree - working in his theses after office hours, and in the office and at home under a zinc roof in the warm capital of Rio. Now, the Taquara resident is a consultant to the United Nations and coordinates the project Black Lives for the End of Violence against Black Youth in Brazil.

Working for human rights

The project in which Thiago is involved covers the 26 agencies of the UN system and also engages with public managers in Brazil. "The campaign has an important guideline: we must prioritize black youth. Human rights defenders are entitled to say that the UN has acknowledged that racism is an important issue in the dynamics of [young black] lethality," he explains.

For Thiago, this type of action is even more important in difficult times for the country, such as the present. "Brazilians are living a moment of adherence to conservative behavior and opinions, which are harmful in relation to sexuality, gender and violence," he analyzes. In the neighborhood where he lives in, and among his friends, his work in defense of human rights is questioned. "Some people like teasing me. They say I defend thieves, but as they know me and we grew up together, we are open for debating, for the diversity of points of view."

Society has difficulties in communication, and that is something that Ansel is aware of. He notes that, in many settings, it is not even possible to talk about issues related to public safety, gender and sexual freedom, for example. "Sometimes I realize that people just want to be heard, but they do not accept to hear the differences," he explains. Even so, he avoids using social networks to debate about politics.

For Thiago, accepting individuals and their understanding of the world is critical to building a better future. "We must disprove the conservative radical cry out, but also understand where it comes from and where it goes to. We need to overcome the universal idea that everyone sees the same thing. Dialogue is needed," he concludes.

In addition to fulfilling his dreams of a fair society, Thiago has another reason to fight for his beliefs: his daughter Joana, three years old. "She was born in the middle of the whole thing, during my doctorate. I want her to have access to milieus that are as diverse as possible and always to live with moral values, aesthetic senses and different people," he says.