I, Too, Am America: Hate Crimes and Broken Cameras

By: zehra imam                 July 23, 2014

“I’m going to blow up your gas tank.”

Kikes are not wanted here.”

NEW YORK – Last week, a former Illuminated youth participant contacted me and shared these two messages that had been directed towards her. This week, eggs were thrown at three elderly Brooklyn mosque-goers. Reflecting on these hate crimes made me think about a piece of advice that had been given to me as I learned about the basics of community organizing: Remember to be hard on structures, and soft with people.

As we prepare for our culminating summer event this Friday, July 25, we hope that the following messages are clear: as an organization, we are in solidarity with those who are oppressed and strive to teach young people about injustices through our curriculum, whether this means the legacy of Goodman-Chaney-Schwerner from 1964 or Eric Garner and those in Gaza today. We stand with those being treated with disregard, such as indigenous communities of the Native people, undocumented immigrants, and children seeking asylum who are being turned away by the United States government. But, we are not for creating movements without dignity.

Designed by: Diana Guerra
Designed by: Diana Guerra

Yesterday, the Illuminated team publicized its culminating summer 2014 event, where we will discuss our work and screen a film connected to some of our core concepts: citizen journalism, travel, and heroism. 5 Broken Cameras, co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burat and Israeli Guy Davidi, was chosen because it is an example of citizen journalism in its most resilient form. Our Washington D.C. collaborator, Marzena Zukowska, said, “Human movement is a human right.” This film calls attention to a conflict that has restricted travel for an entire community of people. And, the courage of the filmmakers is an example of the Jewish concept of hineni that one of our youth-fellows interpreted as meaning “I am here so I will do something to help.”

When our former Illuminated participant reached out to me last week, it took a lot of courage for her to do so. But, it also made me think of those who are so silenced they are unable to advocate for themselves. She told me not to worry too much, because she was moving from her apartment soon, and that this was only temporary. But, the questions her situation evoked are much bigger. How are we dealing with each other on a personal level when our opinions are diametrically opposed on a structural level? Madiba, who is a part of our core curriculum, fought relentlessly for systemic change and was firm and unapologetic about calling for an end to apartheid anywhere it existed. But, on a human level, he understood that no one deserved to feel ostracized, restricted, or threatened. He modeled for us that if we do not remain cognizant of this balance, this is exactly how we will lose one another.

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