On Thursday, May 26, the Guilderland High School Student Voice Committee hosted an Anti-Hate Rally. Featuring student speeches, presentations and activities, the rally culminated a week of events, which included Heritage/Cultural Flag Day, For Your Cause Day and the creation of a Unity Chain.
Jointly sponsored by the Black Student Union, Feminist Club, GHS student government and March For Our Lives, the rally provided an opportunity for the voices of misrepresented and underrepresented students to be heard. Attended by students, teachers, staff, board of education and community members, all were encouraged to “listen, learn and be open minded.”
Student speakers “raised their voices” by sharing their personal experiences with discrimination and bigotry of all types. Their unfiltered stories gave the attendees a true perspective on how they have endured negative messages and disparaging indignities. Many told of comments made about their food, appearance and clothes, even harassment while waiting in line for fast food. Others shared the conflict they feel over abandoning one’s culture, their fear of being different or not wanting to draw attention to themselves.
Attendees participated in a privilege walk activity where those participating formed a line across the GHS parking lot. The facilitator read statements and participants stepped forward or backward according to whether the statement was true for them or not. The statements focused on different aspects of privilege, such as “step forward if your parents speak English at home.” This activity is designed to help participants develop an awareness of privilege and invites discussion about diversity and inclusion.
Presentations were delivered by the Feminism Club and Black Student Union and centered on how these organizations within GHS give students a platform to find their voices and use them, while sharing ideas and experiences.
Students considered what actions can be taken to bring about change. As one student said, “there’s a lot we can do to make Guilderland a more inclusive and understanding space – more staff that look like us, more books that speak like us, more classes that remember and teach about us, more conversations that respect and include us.” Another student felt “it requires speaking less and listening more…sharing, it requires learning. It requires humanity,” while others said “education is ignorance’s greatest fear” and “we all have the power to be inclusive and have compassion.”
Students facilitators explained that humans have between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day; 80% of those are negative. To combat this, attendees were invited to write positive affirmations in chalk on the GHS sidewalk. Messages such as “I deserve to be myself,” “I am enough,” “you are loved,” “I am Black and I’m proud” covered the walkway.
A Pledge of Inclusion
The rally organizers led the crowd in reciting a pledge: “We, the students and faculty of Guilderland High School pledge to do our part to condemn hate and bigotry in our community. We will strive to create a more inclusive school, one that isn’t afraid to stand up for others and to acknowledge its faults. Our journey towards celebrating diversity and education ourselves on discrimination begins now!”
Not a Moment, A Movement
Matt Pinchinat, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, reminded those in attendance that for every story told at the rally, there are countless others who sit in silence and that “we should not get accustomed to the silence.” He closed the rally with nine minutes and 29 seconds of silence, which is the length of time a former Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd. Mr. Pinchinat punctuated the silence by periodically reading the names of Black Americans and people of color, whose lives were taken due to violence, racism and oppression, including many slain by a gunman in Buffalo.
Mr. Pinchinat ended the rally with the reminder that this was “not the end of the cause, but a catalyst for our work” and that “this is not a moment. It’s a movement.”