Sunday, October 03, 2010

What should the NY Center's role be?

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I’ve been hearing from you and other friends and colleagues around the country who have been reading about it. One of the staff received a message from a friend in London with a link to an article about Staten Island published there. Everyone’s talking about Staten Island, hotbed of hate crimes and community outrage. The press has covered Staten Islanders ranting at public meetings about immigrants, ethnic and religious groups, and gay couples ruining their neighborhoods. It’s embarrassing.
More distressing than embarrassing, though, is the reality. Many Staten Islanders in targeted groups are afraid and know they are unwelcome, not by all, but by a vocal minority. There have been more than 12 alleged hate crimes since April, most against Latinos. Community groups in South Beach have been verbally abusive in their opposition to projects sponsored by “damn Russians” and Muslims; they were successful in derailing the sale of a vacant convent to a Muslim group in June.
I commend Councilwoman Debi Rose and Council Speaker Christine Quinn for initiating the “I am Staten Island” Coalition and Campaign. NYCID joined the coalition and I encourage you to do the same.
Now, the Coalition and, here at NYCID, our staff and board are asking ourselves hard questions. We aren’t looking for “feel good” solutions nor do we want band-aids. We’re focusing on long term change. We’d like you to be part of that conversation.
Some of the questions we’re asking include:
  • What strategies have worked in other communities?
  • How do you engage large groups of angry people who turn out for public hearings in constructive conversation?
  • How neutral can we be when our agency values include respect for all? Does it mean we can’t/shouldn’t offer mediation for community disputes where bias is a factor? Can respect for all include respect for people with bias?
  • What more can we do in our youth programs to encourage kids to think and talk about these issues?    
These aren’t new questions for us. And, we’ve tried a variety of strategies over the years. Nor do I believe that Staten Island is the only place struggling with these issues. But, the urgency has intensified. Community anger and polarization has been growing. It’s time for us to move these questions to the forefront of agency thinking and planning.
I’ve set up a place for you to post your ideas and comments. I hope you’ll take the time to have a conversation with me and the staff. We need all the help you can offer.
P.S. Please join the “I am Staten Island” coalition as an individual or agency. And, if you’re on facebook, whether or not you are a Staten Islander, please ‘like’ the I am Staten Island page.   While you’re at it, please ‘like’ the NYCID page, too. 
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