Reinforcing "Why Words Still Matter" at the YWCA of Greenwich

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Students, parents and congressmen alike gathered Wednesday, January 18 at the YWCA of Greenwich to engage in a discussion about combating racism and hate crime in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Featured speakers at the “Why Words Still Matter” event included Interim Superintendent of Greenwich Schools Dr. Salvatore Corda, District of Connecticut US Attorney Ms. Deirdre M. Daly, Chief Executive Officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich Mr. Bobby Walker and moderator Jr. Regional Director of the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League Mr. Steve Ginsburg.
The YWCA of Greenwich’s mission is centered around the development of a strong community that promotes “peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all,” according to ywca.org. Its motto “Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women” speaks to this message of equality across different racial, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
In 2015, Stand Against Racism became a signature campaign of YWCA USA, with over 700 locations across the country implementing this movement. The event yesterday was geared toward evaluating the complex issues behind this campaign and addressing these problems within the context of American society. 

Ms. Kiernan opened the floor for discussion after introducing the featured speakers. Nadia Zuaiter '17
Ms. Kiernan opened the floor for discussion after introducing the featured speakers.
Nadia Zuaiter ’17

YWCA President and Chief Executive Officer Ms. Mary Lee Kiernan opened the discussion by introducing the guest speakers. After prompting the audience’s laughter by cracking a joke, Ms. Kiernan went on to explain the importance of the topic of hate crime and racism to the Fairfield and Westchester communities.
“We are not immune to the rising hate speech and hate crime,” Ms. Kiernan said. “We are here to talk about the power of words and raise awareness of how words without malicious intent can promote hate.”
Ms. Kiernan explained that Dr. King used the power of words to affect positive change. She hoped to emphasize this value as the driving force of the discussion and audience response.
Significant audience members included Congressman Mr. Jim Himes, Town of Greenwich First Selectman Mr. Peter J. Tesei, and Town of Greenwich Selectman Mr. Drew Marzullo.
Over the course of the hour and a half discussion, the speakers addressed the goals of the night: to honor Dr. King and answer the question of how people can respond to hate crimes and violence in a way that strengthens the community.
After Mr. Ginsburg introduced himself, he read two quotes from Dr. King to set the tone for the discussion. Mr. Ginsburg read Dr. King’s quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” To continue, Mr. Ginsburg read, “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” to highlight the importance of taking a stand against injustice. He then invited Ms. Daly to give preliminary remarks about her involvement in social justice issues.
Ms. Daly serves as the US Attorney for the District of Connecticut. She was the First Assistant US Attorney to assist in the oversight of both the criminal and civil divisions. As a graduate of Dartmouth College and Georgetown University Law Center, Ms. Daly is the first woman to hold the office of the US Attorney for Connecticut. 
U.S. Attorney for the State of Connecticut Ms. Deirdre Daly explains the legal ramifications of hate crimes and their negative effects on a community. Nadia Zuaiter '17
U.S. Attorney for the State of Connecticut Ms. Deirdre Daly explains the legal ramifications of hate crimes and their negative effects on a community. Nadia Zuaiter ’17

Ms. Daly reflected upon the recent surge of hate crimes. Bias based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion motivates these crimes. According to Ms. Daly, over the past eight years, there have been more prosecuted hate crimes than at any other time in American history.
She also drew upon insights from a recent hate crime to inspire audience members to report any hate crime they may witness. On the night of the Paris attacks of November 2015, a former Marine executed a mass shooting in a mosque in Meriden, CT. Although the gunman did not injure anyone, Ms. Daly’s office prosecuted the case, and the Marine plead guilty and is currently in jail.
Still, Ms. Daly found it remarkable that the Marine reached out to the mosque leaders and members for forgiveness—and they gave it to him. From this story, Ms. Daly encouraged audience members to enact a “see something, say something” mentality.
“There is a role for you all of you. It is so important that people speak up and stand up to hate,” Ms. Daly said. “If you see an incident that may raise to the level of a hate crime, report it, document it any way you can. We want civil discourse. Confronting people in those situations is important.”
Ms. Daly also noted that as a result of crimes such as these, police officers in the area have undergone special security training to promote a heightened sensitivity and understanding of these offenses.
Mr. Walker then went on to emphasize the increasing popularity of jokes that unintentionally discriminate against others. The former Head of the Middle School at King Low Heywood Thomas School, Mr. Walker has experience as an educator, administrator, and coach. Before graduating from Williams College, Mr. Walker received the Purple Key Award for being the college’s top male athlete and the Muhammad Kenyatta Community Service Award.
With a hands-on role at the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, Mr. Walker interacts with young children on a daily basis and has seen the development of these seemingly harmless jokes.
“One of the first things we’ve been struggling with is the increase in racial jokes,” Mr. Walker said. “They’re saying something or repeating something that someone said and think it’s funny.”
Bobby Walker, Jr., Chief Executive Offer of the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, stress the importance of impressing upon children “Why Words Still Matter.” Nadia Zuaiter ’17

As a result of these instances, Mr. Walker recognized how important it is for family members to be mindful of what they say around children. He duly noted that young children may simply say something because they heard a family member speak the phrase or possibly learned it from social media. Mr. Walker emphasizes that these young children are not comprehending the meaning of the hateful words they hear.
“When it’s put in context of a joke, it’s easy for a child to say, ‘I didn’t mean it,’” Mr. Walker said. “The easiest way to combat this is to not tell these jokes ourselves.”
A simple way to combat the issue of sensitive race topics, Mr. Walker believes, is to engage children in these often tough conversations.
“There needs to be a continued education about what they’re seeing,” Mr. Walker said. “In national rhetoric right now, there’s a lot out there. People are saying a lot of things. We make sure the words kids are hearing are what they believe.”
To expand upon Mr. Walker’s contribution, Dr. Corda repeatedly stressed the role of children and the classroom in the future of American equality and peace movements.
As a pioneer in the education industry, Dr. Corda has acted as Assistant Principal, Assistant Superintendent, Associate Superintendent, and Superintendent of New York and Connecticut schools. In addition, he has held positions at Queensboro Community College and New York University and currently serves at Southern Connecticut State University. After receiving a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Queens College and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Corda had works published in various newspapers and professional publications and received awards for his dedication to education and leadership.
Mr. Corda initiated his discussion with emphasis on constructing a positive classroom environment for young children and reminding them of these practical values. As these children become older, however, Mr. Corda finds value in including them in conversation about what hate crimes and racism really mean to their personal identities and communities.
“What I am seeing for the first time is that kids are taking greater responsibility for standing up and saying the things that ought to be said,” Mr. Corda said. “Our hope is that they think what ought to govern their lives is positive.”
Mr. Corda believes that while the Civil Rights movement occurred over 50 years ago, people are still hesitant to “stand up what we need to stand up for.” Thus, his hope is that when children are older, they can reflect upon the current time period and see progress in discrimination, violence, hate crimes, and racism.
Dr. Salvatore, Corda Interim Superintendent for Greenwich Public Schools, expressed the importance of "Why Words Still Matter" in Greenwich public schools. Nadia Zuaiter '17
Dr. Salvatore, Corda Interim Superintendent for Greenwich Public Schools, expressed the importance of “Why Words Still Matter” in Greenwich public schools. Nadia Zuaiter ’17

Mr. Corda called upon the past presidential election as a catalyst for children to begin assuming responsibility for the future of American democracy and civility. He and local students recognized the difficulty and polarization of the election process, but the students accepted that though their views will differ, they must be respectful. Mr. Corda applauds the students for their critical thinking and prudent approach to reconciling their differences.
“We want responsible adults, and they’re showing us how to do it,” Mr. Corda said.
After Mr. Corda spoke, the conversation took a turn as Ms. Daly addressed the rise in hate crime in the Connecticut region. She has seen a rise in swastika graffiti but admitted that the police have not identified the offenders and no victims have filed charges. She also noted the increase in bomb threats in mosques in West Hartford, Woodbridge, and Weston.
Mr. Ginsburg noted that the YWCA is willing to help both religious and secular organizations undergo the training they need to increase security. Mr. Daly reassured the audience that Jewish Community Centers are currently undergoing increased security training.
Mr. Ginsburg acknowledged that, unlike other states, there is not significant amount of organized hate groups in Connecticut and spoke about how the Sovereign Citizens United Movement has not committed any violent actions thus far.
To end the discussion, Ms. Daly confessed that she recognizes the current generation of students as hope for the future of this country. She feels that they have the capability to  mitigate issues of racism, inequality, hate crimes, and social injustices.
“This generation is open-minded, really progressive. The bias other generations have carried many young people don’t hold today,” Ms. Daly said. 
Mr. Walker agreed and encouraged young people to promote progress and societal advancement.

“We’re constantly telling kids that there’s more to every story,” Mr. Walker said. “We can tell them and talk to them about seeking the truth.”
-Morgan Johnson, Co-Editor-in-Chief