POCatHewlett, with POC standing for people of color, has begun adding its voice to the growing calls for an end to racial inequality. A self-described team spearheaded by two young women, POCatHewlett has a petition on actionnetwork.org, and created a list of 11 “demands” that it wants the Hewlett-Woodmere School District and Board of Education to address.
The group first appeared on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with a collection of statements from Hewlett High School students and alumni describing incidents of racism they experienced in and out of school.
“Two years ago, I was in eighth grade,” one Instagram statement reads. “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.”
“I was sitting at a table in [the] Pizza Place during lunch,” another class of 2023 student posted on Instagram. “A student made racist jokes toward me. When I decided to defend myself, the people I was with called me ghetto and said to just leave it alone. They claimed it wasn’t that big of a deal. I have chosen to distance myself from such people since then.”
One of the group’s organizers is Sana Ansari, 25, a 2013 Hewlett High graduate who now attends Vermont Law School and is interning with the American Civil Liberties Union this summer. “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 ” Ansari said. “We are upset, want to speak up in Hewlett and see change in our community.”
The group is calling on the school district to give 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 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
“It was the whole Black Lives Matter movement, and something that is long overdue,” said Sophia Pesantez, 18, another POCatHewlett organizer, who graduated from Hewlett High this year. “There’s a lot of racism people of color face that doesn’t go noticed by the administration.”
The group’s list of demands for the school board includes using some of the $126.88 million 2020-21 school budget to fund academic initiatives that focus on racial justice.
District Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr. issued a statement about the demands. “The Board of Education and administration of Hewlett-Woodmere Public Schools are aware of the Instagram accounts and petition circulating among the community,” Marino 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 the July 1 school board meeting, newly installed President Debra Sheinin read the last sentence of Marino’s statement, and added, “We are here for the safety of the children and that is of the utmost of importance that we cover that. As for some of the other statements that 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. . . . That is that at this time.”
During the meeting, which was live-streamed on the district’s website, several people commented, mostly anonymously, asking the board if it planned to address the POCatHewlett petition and demands.
One, identified as Rebecca, commented, “BOE — just look at some of the responses to these completely valid concerns. We have a serious problem with racism and ignorance in our school district. And you are playing a part in it by white washing our education having so little diversity in hiring teachers and even within the board itself.”
As of the 2018-19 school year, the ethnic breakdown of the Hewlett-Woodmere School District was 64 percent white, 15 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 9 percent black and 2 percent multiracial, according to statistics reported to the state.
“There is an alarming amount of racism,” Ansari said of the district.