MADISON/MARINE PARK – Many people stood on the left side of the podium inside James Madison High School on Sunday. There was a Muslim woman, her hair covered in a scarf, her daughter standing in front of her. Right next to her stood a Jewish woman holding a poster, her two sons stood in front of her holding their posters. The Muslim girl had a hairband with a bow on it. The Jewish woman said it was beautiful. A little while later, one of the boy’s yarmulke fell to the ground. The Muslim woman picked it up and gently placed it on his head.
“The sun is shining not only outside, it’s shining inside. This is the sunshine before the storm today,” Council Member Chaim Deutsch said inside James Madison High School yesterday. “Today we are going to be empowering our young children. It is not only important to educate our future generations about hate, bias, bigotry, anti-Semitism, but to empower them to stand up because they are our future.”
Elected officials, families, and children gathered in the lobby of the high school to rally against hate and for unity after several anti-Semitic crimes hit the borough. For the first 30 minutes of the event, young students spoke passionately about racism and bigotry. Hate crimes have been on the rise in the borough.
Deutsch referenced the horrific Hammer Attack and the swastikas scrolled in the playground and subway stations, saying “This is totally unacceptable. The only way… we will have tolerance for all is when you look at a room full of people representing different ethnic backgrounds, different religions… We are all one. We are all united.”
Fifth-grade student Marley Shea told the story of her mother taking her sister and her to a drag queen story hour at the library. After the story reading, there were activities conducted by drag queens and Marley ran to the makeup tutorial section.
“I am sure there are a lot of people who probably think my mom was insane for exposing her kids to someone like that. Well, they’re wrong,” Marley said. “Why would it be ridiculous to encourage acceptance? We didn’t see a man dressed as a woman. We saw a really cool person who wanted to teach us how to put on makeup and told us how beautiful we were.”
Marley also spoke about her biracial identity, saying, “A person may not like me because my mom is black or because my dad is white. Well, that’s not an MP, my problem. That’s a TP, their problem.”
She went on to say that children like people who make them happy and it does not matter what they look like or what they believe in. She said she is proud to be growing up in a world where “people finally accept a woman marrying another woman, [where we] accepted a black president, and accepted a public advocate with Tourettes Syndrome.”
“We’re still waiting for a female president, though,” she said. “Maybe Pennsylvania Avenue is holding that spot for me or one of my sisters.”
Another student, Malaz Gadai said what people don’t focus on is the impact of hate on individuals and communities.
“For example, the 9/11 attack caused people to look at the Muslim community differently,” she said. “I feel so lucky to live and go to school in a community where I feel safe because people respect each other’s differences.”
Everton Smith is a staffer to Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Deutsch and said, “This is what love looks like.”
“In the hallways of City Hall, there is never a day where Council Member Deutsch never comes and hugs me,” he said.
He then said, “I read the bible. He reads the Torah,” to which people chuckled and said, “It’s the same thing.”
“Ok, but he’s Jewish and I’m not. He’s a grandfather and I am not even a father yet,” Smith said. “Yet, we come together every single time and join forces to do the work for people in NYC.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said that hate crime is a topic he constantly gets asked about. He acknowledged that there most certainly has been an uptick in the number of hate crimes in NYC, but now there need to be solutions.
“The solution is right here. These young people give me the optimism that I know that we’re going to get right back on track,” he said. “It’s our differences that make us great in America. It’s out differences that make Brooklyn what it is.”
Aleena Malik of the Pakistan American Youth Organization (PAYO) was also in attendance and spoke about the importance of not letting hate stop anyone.
“I am a Pakistani American. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, we are all victims,” she said. “As we’ve seen, the Jewish community has been a target for hate crimes. Today it’s the Jewish community, tomorrow it could me, you, or anyone. We cannot let families… get tormented by hate.”
Janaya Kerben, the founder of WeCare Health Solutions LLC, comes from a diverse background. She is an American-born Jewish woman. Her mother is from Peru and her father is of Polish-Russian descent.
“Whether you are Jewish, whether you are Asian, whether you are Hispanic, disabled, African American, it is a scary time,” she said. “We hear all these speeches and then a week later, we hear about the horrific things that are going on in NYC, in France, in Pittsburgh. It is up to us… to make an effort to stand up for what we believe in.”
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke said the rhetoric coming from Washington DC was to blame for the rise in hate crimes.
“What we have in Brooklyn is so unique… While some people talk about differences, I talk about diversity. Our humanity comes in so many different flavors. It’s like Baskin Robbins and I love every single one of these flavors,” she said. “If hate wins, our children will look at us and say what did we do in a moment like this. They will look back at us and say we have failed them.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez echoed Clarke’s sentiments and said she was moved to tears listening to the children speak earlier.
“Each one of us cannot underestimate the power we have collectively to make sure that hate crimes are not committed in our cities,” she said. “We need to set a tone of compassion, humanity, togetherness. Why do you think that NYC is so vibrant? The diversity of our city, that is what gives us strength.”
Assembly Members Mathylde Frontus, Diana Richardson, and Felix Ortiz took the microphone together.
“The truth is, at the end of the day, we have different complexions of our skins, different heritages, but all of our blood is red,” Richardson said. “There’s more of us. We have more things that are alike that we do that are different.”
When Council Member Mathieu Eugene took to the podium, he took a poster a kid was holding that said, “Unity is a superpower.”
“It is this power that makes NYC such a wonderful city. It is this power that makes the United States such a wonderful country,” he said. “We have to continue to unite, we have to continue to educate our children so they can see the unity. Because they are the leaders of tomorrow.”