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Standing against racism in Hewlett and Woodmere

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POCatHewlett, with POC standing for people of color, has begun adding its voice to the growing sentiment that there must be an end to racial inequality. Calling themselves a team and spearheaded by two young women, POCatHewlett has a petition on actionnetwork.org and created a list of demands that they would like the Hewlett-Woodmere School District and Board of Education to address.

The group first appeared on social media, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with a collection of statements from Hewlett High School students and alums describing incidents of racism that happened to them in and out of school.

One of the high school student Instagram statements read: “Two years ago, I was in eighth grade. Me and my friends were talking to each other on the tennis court waiting for lunch to end when a group of ‘popular’ white kids decided to make fun of us. One in particular decided to call us monkeys.”

Another class of 2023 student posted on Instagram: “I was sitting at a table in [the] Pizza Place during lunch. A student made racist jokes toward me. When I decided to defend myself, the people I was with called my ghetto and said to just leave it alone. They claimed it wasn’t that big of deal. I have chosen to distance myself from such people since then.”

“It was established with the current movement of Black Lives Matter and the major protests, especially here on Long Island after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery,” said Sana Ansari, 25, who graduated Hewlett in 2013 and is now attending Vermont Law School and interning with the American Civil Liberties Union this summer. “We are upset, want to speak up in Hewlett see change in our community,” she added.

The group is calling on the school district to work on its mission to give its students every opportunity to achieve their full potential.  “We call on the Hewlett-Woodmere Board of Education to acknowledge that this mission cannot be realized without actively combating systemic racism in and out of the classroom, spearheading anti-racist, inclusive policies, and without listening to the voices of minority students,” POCatHewlett wrote.

“It was the whole Black Lives Matter movement and something that is long overdue,” said Sophia Pesantez, 18, who just graduated Hewlett High. “There is a lot of racism people of color face that doesn’t go noticed by the administration.”

POCatHewlett listed 11 “demands” that the group would like to see the district’s board consider, including using money from the $126.88 million school budget to “fund racial justice, academic initiatives for the 2020-21 school year and onwards.”

Hewlett-Woodmere School District Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr. issued a statement in response to the Herald's inquiry: "The Board of Education and administration of Hewlett-Woodmere Public Schools are aware of the Instagram accounts and petition circulating among the community," he stated. " It is vital that if any individual has specific knowledge of a law or policy that has been violated, he or she should immediately bring it to the attention of the appropriate district or building administrators." 

At Wednesday's trustee meeting newly installed board President Debra Sheinin read  the last sentence of Marino's statement, then added. "We are here for the safety of the children and that if of the utmost of importance that we cover that. As for some of the other statements that there are being made on the petition, school board members are elected officials from the community, so anyone can try to run for election and have the support of the community. The board will discuss the other item  and that is that at this time."      

This story will be expanded and updated for the July 9 edition of the Nassau Herald.