WESTFIELD, NJ — Since 2019, Westfield High School has partnered with the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that combats hatred and injustice in all forms, through the creation of the No Place for Hate Committee.
Together, students, staff, parents and community members discuss global issues related to acts of hatred as well as develop creative ways to educate about and stand against hatred.
Under the leadership and support of Westfield High School Vice Principal Warren Hynes and teacher Kimberly Leegan, the high school’s NPFH Committee has created six subcommittees, each targeting hatred that impacts various minority groups. These subcommittees create specialized programming and resources for the community.
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The recent work of these subcommittees includes the Religion subcommittee’s interactive display case for Jewish American Heritage month at the high school and their open classroom and afterschool discussions on antisemitism as well as the LGBTQ+ subcommittee’s presentation to WHS staff about the appropriate usage of pronouns.
Sophomore Valeria Ramirez is a student leader of the Race and Allyship subcommittee and has been a key organizer in her team’s efforts to condemn racism.
Sophia Braun:What prompted you to join the NPFH program?
Valeria Ramirez: Late last year during the Black Lives Matter protest, I was looking to see what I could do to show my support. I got an email from our school’s NPFH Committee about the ongoing discussions that they were holding to unpack these global issues. I joined their discussions at the end of the 2020 school year, but I became an active member over the summer when I participated in the NPFH community book-reads about combating hatred.
SB:What projects has your committee worked on in the past?
VR: For Black History Month we watched the Pixar movie Soul. We invited musicians to discuss the history of jazz, the mechanics of the style of music, and the crucial role Black musicians have in the history and current-day jazz music. We also talked about our favorite Black artists and the celebration of Black History Month.
Last week we promoted an event called “Act to Change.” It was a big virtual event with Asian American activists, influencers, musicians, and actors. These individuals discussed the recent Asian American hate crimes that have been going on which was very impactful.
SB:What project is your committee currently working on?
VR: Now that June is here, we want to highlight Juneteenth. This year marks the first year that Juneteenth will be an official holiday in New Jersey. In an article that I read, Governor Murphy said that he wants Juneteenth to be a way to remember the past and the dark history of slavery also to celebrate the progress that has been made and encourage more progress.
This represents NPFH’s goals for Juneteenth. We are hoping to encourage history teachers to start having conversations about it in their classrooms. We want to get information about Juneteenth out there to students because many are unaware of its significance as well as the related celebrations across the state.
I did not know much about it until last year and I think that is something that I should have been learning the first time I was taught about the Civil War and United States history. If we can get more people to reflect on what Juneteenth is, we will be successful, in addition to spreading the word about events and celebrations in New Jersey for Juneteenth.
SB: What has been the biggest challenge of your work?
VR: It has been tough getting people to attend virtual activities. Virtual activities are more accessible, but in comparison to last year’s students going into classrooms, it has been more challenging to engage virtually. On a positive note, the social media team has been able to get the word out about different events to get more engagement.
SB:What do you feel is your subcommittee’s biggest accomplishment thus far?
VR: Seeing more and more people show up at the meetings is a big accomplishment for me. Last year there was high attendance. For a short time, the engagement decreased, and now it has risen again.
SB:How can the community of Westfield get involved?
VR: NPFH shares emails about our work and events that we are doing. Information is consistently getting pushed out to the public. We have also created multiple padlets on many related topics including resources on race and Asian American Hate. Through our social media platforms, we put out information for upcoming events. We provide background on various months that recognize communities and ethnic groups, for example, Hispanic Heritage Month. In the future, we hope to all be in person at school which will be an additional way to provide resources to students.
SB:Do you have any teasers for future projects that your committee would like to work on in the future?
VR: We are discussing topics to get the student and broader community engaged on topics like police brutality. We are working on a slideshow about the Chauvin trial. We were talking about addressing immigration issues and xenophobia. “Act to Change” organized a panel for educators who shared many resources for classrooms and schools that we plan to review. We do not have anything concretely planned yet, but we have many ideas and goals that we would like to implement in the 2021-2022 school year.
For more information on upcoming NPFH events visit: @whs.npfh on Instagram.
Sophia Braun is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.
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