The discussion of racism is continuing in Rockville Centre, with the Anti-Racism Project returning next month. Formed as a way to start a conversation about the topic and to combat racism, the project’s second eight-week session will begin in October.
“The goal is to help people understand racism, then go out in the world to create change,” Rena Riback and Judy Rattner, co-administrators of the project, said in a joint statement. “It’s as simple as a ripple effect, just by talking to other people.”
The project was founded in 2017, after the Unite the Right riot in Charlottesville, Va., followed by anti-Semitic and racist incidents in Rockville Centre. “Community leaders got together to address it,” Riback said, “and realized you cannot react to each incident in a vacuum.”
A group of about a dozen local leaders from Raising Voices, the United Church of Rockville Centre, Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, the Sisterhood of CSBE, the Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center developed a plan. The volunteers, mostly educators, spent several months writing the curriculum, and held the first eight-week session last fall. About 30 people participated, working with trained volunteer facilitators and engaging in interactive experiences to examine the realities of institutionalized racism, internalized racism and white privilege, “and understand how they feed ongoing racial injustice,” according to Rattner.
“The goal is to move from non-racism to anti-racism,” said Rattner. “It’s not about diversity. It’s about equity and equality.”
Lois Cooper, a diversity and inclusion consultant and trainer, was a facilitator during the first session, and will return this fall. She was involved with the project from the start, after attending a two-day training seminar organized by Erase Racism New York that focused on institutionalized and internalized racism. “I was so impacted by it, I wanted to bring it to the community,” Cooper said.
Facilitator Tara Brancato was also involved in the curriculum development. A teacher at a public school in Queens who teaches courses on the Holocaust and human rights, she’s interested in combating racism and anti-Semitism.
“I really think Long Island has a systemic and historical problem with racism and segregation,” said Brancato, who is a part of the Unity and Diversity Committee of Raising Voices, a local advocacy and civil engagement group. “It’s very segregated at every level.”
A resident of West Hempstead, she said that while the town appears to be integrated on paper, in reality, that’s not the case. Part of the problem, she said, is that “society tends to favor those in power,” and traditionally, the people in charge on Long Island have been white. As a parent and a teacher, she believes strongly in changing those perceptions.
“This project allows a more diverse group of people to come together and talk about problems that they maybe aren’t even aware of,” Brancato said. “It’s a way to mix and mingle with people outside of your normal group and engage on a personal level with people who have different perspectives.”
The consensus, from the facilitators’ standpoint, was that the first session was a success. “People seemed to learn a lot,” Cooper said, “and they seemed to gain self-respect as well as a greater respect and understanding for others they thought were different from themselves.”
“People were very eager to talk, even though some of the conversations were not easy to have,” Brancato added. “The challenge is to put the thoughts into action.”
Participants in the program are encouraged to come up with personal action plans. One success story, Cooper said, was Susan Ganz of Plainview, who implemented her idea and created the Long Island Diversity Council.
“The mission is to promote business opportunities by building professional relationships across different groups,” Ganz said. “We can make a bigger economic impact by fostering dialogue.”
Brancato said she also witnessed other changes that were a direct result of the Anti-Racism Project’s work. Some participants have become tutors at the MLK Community Center.
The group has been invited into Rockville Centre schools to provide professional development to staff, and will also be doing mini-workshops at churches and synagogues.
The eight-week session is a deep dive into racism. The free project has two group sessions that meet on either Tuesday or Wednesday in Rockville Centre. The Tuesday session will start on Oct. 15 and run through Dec. 11. The Wednesday session will begin Oct. 2 and end on Dec. 11. The final session will bring the groups together, and the action plans will be shared.
“It’s a way for people in the community to know each other and have these discussions,” said Brancato.
To sign up, go to antiracismproject.org. The project limits the number of participants to create a safe space for thoughtful conversations. And while the idea is to create change, attendees agree that transformation can come even at a personal level.
“Even small actions can have an impact,” said Ganz. “Each person has the power to make a difference.”