Tuesday afternoon saw nearly 35 students at M.S. 936 in Sunset Park gather in its schoolyard for an afterschool rally to denounce anti-Asian hate. The event was created by the school’s Student Leadership Council and was attended by faculty and staff, along with representatives of a few of Sunset Park’s community organizations.
Known as “Arts Off 3rd”, because of its location at 3rd Avenue and 59th Street in the Mafalda DiMango Complex of the Arts, M.S. 936 is the first middle school in District 20 with a focus on visual and performing arts. It welcomed its first class this past September, with about 150 sixth graders. The class’s founding Student Leadership Council initiated the idea of holding a rally to support AAPI communities.
“They’re seeing what was going on, and frankly, they’re upset,” says Liam Giordano, the school’s social studies teacher, and the Council’s advisor. “Everybody was on board with this rally, and about a third signed up to attend.”
Starting at 2 pm in the schoolyard, participating students each held up signs decrying anti-Asian hate while wearing masks and social distancing. A student emcee welcomed everyone for attending and began introducing the speakers, who were a mix of M.S.936’s students and representatives of Sunset Park community groups, including the Brooklyn Chinese American Association, the Brooklyn Community Improvement Association, and Parent-Child Relationship Association.
The students spoke the most during the rally. The Council’s President, a girl named Elizabeth, spoke about how the AAPI is a big part of the school’s community.
“A school is where you should feel secure and be part of a tight-knit community,” she says. “Everyone should feel safe no matter what.”
Two other girls, named Alivia and Ya Min, spoke at length about the anti-Asian sentiment and abuse they have both witnessed and experienced.
“How would you feel if your community was being targeted by your neighbors?” Alivia tells those in attendance. “The number of hate crimes against Asians have increased. Some are in hospitals suffering severe damages. This issue must be solved. Stop Asian hate!”
Ya Min spoke about one particular day while having lunch in her school’s cafeteria when she first came to America from China as an 8-year-old.
“These students came up to me and began calling names and they spit on my lunch,” she says. “I was new. I didn’t do anything to them. I think school should not be like this.”
While the speakers from the Brooklyn Chinese American Association and Parent-Child Relationship Association spoke very briefly during the rally, Rosita Chan, the President of the Brooklyn Community Improvement Association, made an emphasis on how the United States is a nation of immigrants.
“We are all immigrants from generation to generation,” she says. “Think about where you come from before you say ‘go back to your country.’ I hope everyone will love each other and help each other make America great again.”
Even David Pretto, the new Superintendent of District 20, made an appearance to congratulate the students for organizing it.
“I’m very excited to see the students exercise their feelings and commit to their peers and community organizations,” Pretto told Bklyner at the end of the rally.
The 30-minute rally ended with pop music being played from loudspeakers and some students dancing, holding up their signs. Even the Council’s President skipped around her classmates to motivate them into dancing.
At the conclusion of the rally, Liam Giordano expressed pride in the event and his students.
“I thought this was incredible,” he says. “It was a bridge from school to community. We teach them the arts are multicultural, and teaching the arts lead to teaching advocacy.”
It is estimated by the NYU Furman Center that 34.8% of Sunset Park’s residents identify as Asian. Last month, a study by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, revealed New York City had a 223% increase in hate crimes against Asians during this year’s first quarter compared to last year’s.