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Combating hate through education

Sen. Brooks hosts anti-discrimination webinar

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“I hope tonight is the opening of a door of understanding,” State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, said as he began a virtual roundtable discussion titled “Promoting Anti-Hate and Discrimination Awareness,” on April 15, to address the increase in crimes against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.   

At the start of the roundtable, Jeong-eun Rhee, a professor at Long Island University Post’s College of Education, Information and Technology, began by calling out Long Island schools for being “the most segregated in the country.”

According to the State Education Department, roughly 45 percent of Long Island’s student population comprises people of color, yet only 8 percent of teachers are people of color. Diversifying school staff should be one of Long Island’s main priorities to combat systemic racism, Rhee said.

The panelists also included Farrah Mozawalla, executive director of the county’s office of Asian American Affairs; Thomas Joy, a Suffolk County police officer and a member of the Suffolk County Asian Advisory Board; Sabrina Guo, a local activist and a sophomore at Syosset High School; and Gordon Zhang, president and founder of the Chinese American Association and the board director of the Asian American Coalition of Education.

“We know that since the start of the pandemic, the number of attacks and hate crimes against members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community have increased,” said Dafny Irizarry, who moderated the discussion. “But we also know that everyone has a role in stopping hate and creating a safe and inclusive community. What everyday actions can community members take to help combat hate?”   

“I think that this conversation right here, right now, is the first of many steps to push for change,” said Guo, who is also the founder of Long Island Laboring Against Covid-19, which distributes personal protective equipment across the Island, and Girl Pride International, a nonprofit that supports the education of migrant and refugee girls.

She continued, “I think that community members could reach out and listen to others who don’t look like us … to learn and to understand each other, especially during such tough times like a pandemic when we need each other’s support more than ever.”

Guo encouraged those viewing the webinar to get involved in a community organization or social service group that helps underrepresented populations. “Truly, there is nothing too small to make an impact,” she said.

All of the panelists stressed the importance of not being a bystander, and speaking out against acts of hate when you see them — or reporting them to the New York State Hate Crimes Task Force’s discrimination hotline, (888) 392-3644, or the state attorney general’s hotline, (800) 771-7755.

Mozawalla also promoted the resources offered by the Nassau County Office of Asian American Affairs, which include how to report discrimination or unfair treatment.

“Right in the beginning of the pandemic our office recognized the need that there would be attacks on Asian people,” Mozawalla said, “because through the federal government, we heard a lot of rhetoric.”

Education was another focus of the roundtable, and the panelists weighed in on the state Board of Regents’ recently launched initiative calling on state schools to create policies that advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Some of the actions districts must take, as outlined in the board’s initiative, include offering students opportunities to take part in social justice causes, hiring and retaining diverse staffs and bolstering diverse curriculums.

“I think, oftentimes, we get kind of confused as to what the purpose of education should be and we get caught up in standardized testing and academic performances,” Rhee said. “The purpose of education is for all of us to be able develop knowledge and skills to develop sustainable communities at the local and global level.”

She added that districts’ curriculums should include different perspectives on historical events and feature the writing of diverse authors.

Another focus of the night was the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, which is currently on the floor of the House and Senate and expedites the review of coronavirus-related discrimination and bias.

Guo urged lawmakers “to encourage and empower victims to speak out and speak up instead of staying quiet, because sharing their experiences, while painful, most certainly does make a positive difference in the long run in helping other victims fight back.”