Island Trees Graduate Among Five Honored By ERASE Racism

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ERASE Racism announced the five Long Island students who won its annual essay and t-shirt design contests.

One of those students is Nadia Othman, who recently graduated from Island Trees High School and was a senior at the time of the submission.

Here is an excerpt from that piece.

“Freshman year I joined Debate Club, where I silently sat in the back during meetings, on the brink of tears out of intimidation. I first spoke during a discussion about whether affirmative action is fair. Aware that there were virtually no other people of color in the room, I had no idea how many people would agree with me, but I said that the minorities meant to benefit from the policy are deprived of opportunity on a deeper systemic level that unfairly hinders their performance. Others responded, saying that they’d never thought of it that way, and urged people to listen to me. I realized I couldn’t be afraid to express myself in fear of deviation.”

The essay contest is for public high school seniors; the t-shirt design competition is for middle school students. The awards, which include a $500 scholarship for each high school student and a $250 award for the middle school student, will be presented at a virtual celebration on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Advance registration to attend the celebration is required and is available here.

Sean won with the powerful visual “Make Love Not Hate.” (Photo courtesy of ERASE Racism)

The winner of the middle school t-shirt design competition is Sean Stergis, a seventh-grader at Woodland Middle School in East Meadow.

Contestants in sixth, seventh and eighth grades were asked to submit a design to advance the effort to erase racism.

T-shirts with the winning design are available here.

In addition to Othman, three other winners of the high school essay contest were named, which is sponsored by SCOPE Education Services – and excerpts of the winning essays – are shown below.

The students were asked to write 400-500 words on the following topic: “Based on your own experiences and/or advocacy efforts, what can you do to build a racially just, more equitable Long Island for your generation and future generations?”

Victoria Lu, who was a senior when the essay was submitted and now a graduate of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, was one of the winners.

Excerpt: “Building a more equitable Long Island requires a multifaceted approach. One
must consider the socioeconomic divisions and beliefs of people not only locally but also
globally. Some belief systems are so ancient that it seems impossible to dismantle. Our
inherent prejudices stem from a young age, and if not introduced to more sympathetic
perspectives, we continue fostering unhealthy bias. I am struggling to erase the bias that my parents and other adult figures gave me, as I grew up in a mostly white suburban
neighborhood.”

Another winner was Jeffrey Reyes-Espinal, who was also a senior when the essay was submitted and is now a graduate of Amityville Memorial High School.

Excerpt: “Being from a community that is known for its low income, people around the Island understand the reputation that the community holds. What most don’t know is that there are two versions of my community. One is the larger, poorer, unincorporated
town and the other half is a waterside village, million-dollar houses, retired and majority-white residents. My experience begs the question, how do we ameliorate the issue of racism on Long Island? First, you identify that there’s an issue. At these school board meetings, the public and administration expressed their concern over the fact of minority lack of representation. Second, access. My school district opened up committees to research this very topic, worked with specific hiring associations that specialized in POC hirings. This access means voting, hiring, admissions to universities. The more you address an issue, the more opportunities that arise to solve it. That is where we start”

Lastly, Faith Shaw won as a Westbury High School graduate now, but she was a high school senior when the piece was submitted as well.

Excerpt: “I learned how to make my presence quiet, how to not draw attention to myself when my skin had already made me the lone wolf. I learned how to change the way I talked, my deep timber exchanged for something softer, lighter, higher. How to make my tall frame disappear amongst the crowds. It wasn’t until I was in a room that looked so different from my neighborhood that I learned what it felt like to feel other. It became difficult for me to navigate these situations with any sort of confidence. I had already felt a plethora of eyes looking at me for reasons I could not control. So to find any sort of comfort, I subconsciously worked to make myself as unmentionable as possible. This is how I spent the first two years of High School whenever I found myself in these situations. It wasn’t until 11th grade and my discovery of spoken word poetry that things changed.”

ERASE Racism sees these students as shining lights during this important time in our nation’s history.

“At a time of racial unrest nationally, these Long Island students are lighting a path of
commitment, reflection, understanding and optimism,” said Elaine Gross, who is President of ERASE Racism. “They represent a new generation of leaders, on whom our nation’s promise and future depend.”

Additional information on ERASE Racism is available at www.eraseracismny.org.

To speak with Gross, contact Henry Miller at 917-921-8034 or hmiller@highimpactpartnering.com.

-Submitted by ERASE Racism

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