MAHOPAC, N.Y. - More than 60 community members attended a special panel discussion entitled “Hate in the Age of Multiculturalism” that was hosted by State Sen. Pete Harckham last month at the Mahopac Public Library.

The diverse group of panelists included Amy Erard from the Hudson Valley Islamic Community Center; Rabbi Sarah Freidson of Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac; and James Hyer, Esq., treasurer of Hudson Valley Stonewall Democrats.

Putnam County Sheriff Robert L. Langley, Jr., Brandon Lillard, CCSI team coordinator at CoveCare Center in Carmel, and Norma Pereira, co-founder of the Putnam Community Connection ESL Program, rounded out the panel.

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After a brief welcome, Sen. Harckham posed this question to the panel: How has hate and intolerance personally affected you and your community? All the responses from the participants touched upon experiences that were marked by insults and insensitivity. Pereira, a native of Guatemala, spoke of feeling distressed and “exposed” from comments made to her, which caused her to learn of community services that supported immigrants.

Hyer later recalled the words of former Westchester County Human Rights Commissioner Delores Scott Brathwaite, who, he noted, said, “Everyone checks one box or another” in our diverse world, and that our job is “to protect each other.”

Meanwhile, Sheriff Langley admitted that the prevalence of hate was felt also in the law enforcement community.

When asked how communities can agree on shared values and get young people to rally around societal inclusion, Rabbi Freidson expressed hope for the road ahead, noting that youth today seemed more tolerant. She also pointed out that one way to bridge understanding between different groups was through storytelling among different people and letting them become familiarized with new cultures and ideas in a more personal setting. Others on the panel talked about educating oneself, and even starting the education process with your children at home.

All agreed, however, that too much hate seems institutionalized in our country, and too often there is not enough push back on incidents of xenophobia and intolerance.

“When we talk about culture, let’s be honest with each other, and talk about the many, many kinds of culture that make up American life,” said Pereira.

The panelists all concurred that fears and prejudices are widespread to the point of being universal feelings and reactions, but instead of helping to foster understanding, the internet has amplified people’s worst and darkest tendencies.

“Our voices and actions have to be louder then,” answered Hyer.

There was a short Q&A near the end of the program, and a number of attendees spoke, including Joseph J. Tock, a local lawyer and library board member, who wondered why other community stakeholders had decided to not show up for such an important, enlightening event.

At the conclusion of the panel discussion, Harckham was asked to host another forum on hate soon, and there was some talk of an interfaith event along the same lines in the near future.

Article provided by Sen. Harckham’s office