Rena Riback and Judy Rattner, co-administrators of the Rockville Centre-based Anti-Racism Project, were surprised when, at the end of May, the organization's website views shot up — from 500 to 47,000 — and its email inbox flooded with hundreds of messages from people across the country.
It was May 31, just six days after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. All over social media, people were sharing petitions and educational resources about systemic racism. The term “anti-racist” started coming to the fore. Still, Riback and Rattner didn’t understand the exact cause of this dramatic rise in interest in the Anti-Racism Project in just one day.
After some digging, they found that a link to their website, antiracismproject.org, was featured in an Obama Foundation newsletter sent out to its email subscribers on May 30. The Obama Foundation said the Anti-Racism Project’s website contained “very comprehensive and practical resources that the world should see.”
“A lot of organizations are doing this kind of work,” said Riback, a Rockville Centre resident who founded the grassroots group in 2017, “so to be singled out was very special to us.”
The Obama Foundation’s email shared a message from President Barack Obama addressing George Floyd’s death and how “for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’” — and shouldn’t be. This is the very topic that the Anti-Racism Project informs the community about.
As opposed to being non-racist, “anti-racist” means taking concrete actions to eliminate one’s own racial bias and work to dismantle racist systems. For three years, Riback, Rattner and a group of eight, diverse members have led workshops discussing how to be anti-racist.
They offer an eight-session program that covers racial microaggressions, white privilege and systemic racism. They have also offered mini workshops on the same topics at local libraries, as well as training for middle and high school teachers.
With Covid-19 restrictions, all the Anti-Racism Project’s workshops are now virtual. They have one coming up in collaboration with Baldwin Library next month, and another with Rockville Centre Public Library at a date to be determined.
To meet the present moment, the workshops now focus on white privilege, mass incarceration and “the talk” that Black parents have with their children about racism and how it could affect their encounters with police.
“The whole purpose is for people to move from non-racist to anti-racist, which requires action and people to understand that things need to change on an institutional level,” Riback explained.
Riback noted that George Floyd’s death “finally lit a spark” for people at a time when many were home, due to Covid-19, and paying attention. “These murders have been going on for decades, centuries,” she said.
“Most people want to know what they can do,” Rattner added, about the many emails they’ve been receiving. “They can start with reading and being educated, which is what we're all about. From there, you come up with an individual action plan.”
And, Riback said, they plan to engage people on a national level in the future. “This has given us the opportunity to do that,” Rattner said, referring to the Obama Foundation email. “It recognized the hard work of everyone who has distributed ideas and resources and curated the website.”
For anti-racism resources and to learn more about Anti-Racism Project’s workshops, visit antiracismproject.org.