Students learn about Long Island’s “injustices” through ERASE workshop

Adeola Tella-Williams has seen her students make new friends with people they don’t usually see in their classrooms and engage in dialogue about discrimination and segregation.

Students have engaged through anti-racism forums organized by Syosset-based ERASE Racism, said Tella-Williams, a teacher in the Uniondale School District for 20 years. For several years, she has taken a handful of freshmen and seniors to the annual forum, where they meet students from Long Island. Last year’s forum was held almost over two days because of the coronavirus.

What there is to know

ERASE Racism saw participation in its anti-racism workshops have skyrocketed since the 2020 death of George Floyd, a black man killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Registration for Syosset group workshops increased from around 957 in 2020 to around 1,628 in 2021.

Erase Racism, a non-profit organization that advocates racial equity, has held workshops for school districts, libraries, other nonprofits, and businesses.

“They’re learning about the inequities that exist, primarily in housing, and Long Island history,” said Tella-Williams, who teaches world history and African-American and Latino history at Uniondale High School.

“Equally important,” she added, “they have made new friends of different races and are able to interact with students from other parts of Long Island that they don’t see every day in their schools.

Attendance at ERASE Racism workshops has “skyrocketed” over the past year, said nonprofit group founder and president Elaine Gross, who traced the rise in interest in protests against the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

Gross said 69 workshops and presentations were held for 29 clients in 2021, compared to 47 workshops and 22 clients in 2020. The workshops cover a wide ground, from dissecting the concept of race to discussing government policy that once mandated race. segregation of housing estates by race. , until the federal Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, prohibiting the practice.

Nicole Grennan, educator/community coordinator for ERASE Racism, said the total number of people registered for workshops in 2021 was about 1,628, compared to about 957 in 2020. Many workshops were for libraries, school districts and to other non-profit organizations and businesses.

“We have been overwhelmed with requests” Gross said. “I think the George Floyd protests definitely gave momentum. A lot of people were thinking about issues that they hadn’t thought of before.”

Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was convicted and sentenced last year to 22 years in prison. Additionally, he pleaded guilty on Dec. 15 to violating Floyd’s constitutional rights.

Floyd’s death has sparked protests across the country, including on Long Island, demanding social justice and police reform.

Gross said ERASE workshops begin by deepening “people’s understanding of what race is beyond what they might have learned in their growing years” and then move on to segregation and “structural racism”, for example.

As for participating students, Tella-Williams said he saw his “researchers” become “enlightened as to why things are the way they are.”

For example, its students, the majority of whom are black and Latino, many of whom come from immigrant families from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Africa, come out of the forums better equipped to understand the history and the impact of discrimination. It’s almost, she says, “therapeutic” for them to have that knowledge.

“It was really enlightening because there were such a lot of people there, there were other outside perspectives that I might not have been able to see before,” recalls Amina Walker, 15, 10th grader at Uniondale High School, about the anti-racism forum she attended last year. “I’m black. I was able to hear perspectives from Asian students, white students, Hispanic students that I might not have been able to get without asking and being there.”

“I learned about the history of housing on Long Island and how segregation was in the past, and how it’s still reflected to this day,” Walker added, noting that some communities have predominantly black residents and others non-white, such as its community in Uniondale and neighboring Hempstead, while other communities have predominantly white populations.

Walker said that despite the students’ differing perspectives, a “consensus” developed between them that “we absolutely need to do better with how we treat people of different races, in terms of sensitivity.”

Her father, Derek Walker, said he was proud of his daughter for her participation in the forum. “It’s not easy growing up these days,” he said. “The fact that she reflects on some of the crises in the world is very important.”

Sabely Chavez, 16, also a 10th grader at Uniondale High, said she particularly enjoyed the brainstorming session she and other students engaged in during the forum, listening to some point out the discrimination faced by they were confronting and trying to come up with personal and societal ideas. , solutions.

“I learned that you may not be the only person in this situation and you have others who have been through it and are trying to find a solution,” Chavez said. “I also learned that Long Island has changed overall over the years. I remember they showed us a video of Levittown, and it was the most Caucasian town then, but now it has a lot of cultures.”

Tella-Williams also took an ERASE Racism workshop that her school district offered to staff for professional development.

“It really explained how you can use the information provided by ERASE Racism to partner with your program,” she said.

Tella-Williams said he learned “how the property value of a certain neighborhood goes down based on the demographics of the people who live there. You can use it in the economics class, in the history class, even in math course”.

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