CLEVELAND – In line with their anti-bullying and anti-racism campaign, two American anti-racism centers cooperated to create a three-minute video that fights hatred of Muslims and immigrants in general.
“We decided to do hashtag #RethinkAmerican, as opposed to a #RethinkImmigration. These are real kids we work with all year long. They have very, very powerful stories,” President and CEO Peggy Zone Fisher told Cleveland.com.
“When they look into the camera, they say things they might not even say to their parents.”
The administration of the center sought to spark conversations about what it means to be American, without singling out any groups.
It is the result of cooperation between the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews) in Beachwood and the Cleveland-based Goldfarb Weber Creative Studios.
The video stars some of the Northeast Ohio high-school students who attended the Diversity Center’s annual retreat in October 2017.
The students spent hours describing the America they believe in versus the name-calling and harassment they experience. Their testimonies were distilled into the three-minute video on YouTube, under the hashtag #RethinkAmerican.
“I was always told, ‘Be who you are,’ but today, some people could be terrified to be who they are,” a male student says.
“I have had people chase me. I’ve had people try to pull off my hijab,” adds another.
“People will call me a terrorist, or call me a ‘muzzie,’ tell me to get out of the country, and that I don’t belong here,” a third student said. “I tell them, ‘No, I’m not a terrorist. A scarf doesn’t determine who I am.’”
“If we do find a way to break that barrier of people hating each other because of the color of their skin or their race or where they’re from, maybe we can get somewhere,” a young woman says.
The initiative comes as the number of hate groups and extremist organizations has reached an unprecedented level after the 2016 presidential elections.
“Young people are receiving so many mixed messages, and many are so scared,” Fisher said.
A recent survey of 10,000 educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that 80% were seeing “heightened anxiety and fear among students, particularly immigrants, Muslims and African Americans” following the divisive presidential election.”
Moreover, “numerous teachers reported the use of slurs, derogatory language and extremist symbols in their classrooms,” according to the SPLC.
The video is part of a larger campaign to promote diversity in US schools.
The Diversity Center is creating a curriculum around #RethinkAmerican that will be free to any schools in the nine counties it serves and is taking it to two conferences in March to get input from teachers and counselors.
“The reaction has been extremely powerful. We share it in a classroom and they open up and have conversations. It’s far more engaging than having a stranger stand up there and say, ‘OK, today we’re going to talk about immigration,’” Fisher explained.
“Hearing from their peers is so powerful. Everybody wants to talk then.”
“We’re in parochial, private, public, and charter schools, in suburban and rural districts, and students are the same. They really want to do things,” she added.
“This generation is becoming very empowered, and it gives me a lot of hope.”