'Hate' forum promotes thoughtful conversation for H-F residents

Local residents filled Flossmoor’s Village Hall July 16, when the Anti-Defamation League hosted "The State of Hate," an event to discuss national trends in hate speech, and examine the local impact. 
 
The ADL reported "an 182 percent increase in white supremacist propaganda incidents in 2018, with new hate symbols and ideologies increasingly being disseminated online, and to younger and younger audiences."
 
ADL facilitator Lara Trubowitz says it’s important for small communities to be aware of national spikes in hate crime.
 
“The first step that communities can take to combat these developments is to understand the trends," she told the H-F Chronicle after the forum. "Communities need to know what to look for, and how and where to report incidents. This means knowing which groups in your community are most vulnerable, and what resources and community support organizations are available.
 
“Find opportunities to listen carefully to targeted groups and individuals so that you can better understand their concerns and needs. No individual or group should ever have to stand alone.”
 
At the meeting, residents were asked to respond to a series of questions about their experience in the community. When asked whether they ever felt unsafe in H-F, four lone black women stood.
 
Flossmoor resident Alanna Cotch finds that troubling. She and other participants spoke with the Chronicle after the session.
 
“Simply walking around in my neighborhood and feeling unsafe, I’ve never felt that," Cotch said. "To see women of color in H-F who do feel unsafe is eye opening,” she said. “This is another example of how white women may have different experiences than women of color.”
 
While Trubowitz encouraged residents to remain present to what vulnerable residents are feeling and experiencing, Cotch explains that some residents simply don’t know what questions to ask.
 
“You don’t know what you don’t know. Until I started having more intentional conversations with my friends of color in Flossmoor, I thought we were more enlightened on these issues than we are. I assumed that all the racists left in the '70s and '80s,” Cotch said. “So when a spark of ugly arises, it was surprising to me. Because of my privilege, it’s easy for me to assume things are better than they are.”
 
Cotch wasn’t the only resident present who felt she had been living under an illusion.
 
Stephanie Byrd, an active parent in the community, says she was ‘heartbroken’ to learn of recent racially charged incidents, like H-F students in blackface.
 
“Having been involved with the kids of this community from elementary school through high school in every role from ‘classroom mom’ and travel sports to Flossmoor Community Church, I know that the kids in this community have been raised to understand, and appreciate diversity,” Byrd said. "It saddens me that some change occurs from the time when they are all holding hands in elementary school, to these kind of incidents. Where does this divisiveness come from? These young people were raised in the 21st century, not the Jim Crow south.” 
 
Trubowitz said that it is the accessibility of the 21st century world that fuels the fires of hate speech.
 
“Social media and the internet give students greater access to new hate symbols, slurs, and ideologies,” she said. “Hateful rhetoric has increasingly become normalized in our society, prompting students to experiment with hate without fully understanding the impact.”
 
With boundless access to uncensored information, Flossmoor parent and life coach Marlana Baylis-Ruffin identifies a need to keep children grounded.
 
“We have to re-center our kids, because as they go through different entry points in life, they are exposed to so much that can distract them,” she said. “If we don’t create an environment where we ground them in what they believe, they will go off to whatever feels like belonging. That’s how you get someone to a Neo-Nazi party by asking ‘Do you feel isolated?’ when they never had those beliefs before.”
 
Cotch says it’s conversations like those facilitated by the ADL meeting that set H-F apart, even if the community is still working to achieve the inclusivity that residents value. 
 
“I think we are definitely a reflection of what’s happening nationally. But, there are a lot of thoughtful people here, who are willing to listen and learn. And we have the resources in our community to facilitate that,” Cotch said. “It can be true that we are unique and special, and at the same time still have work to do.”
 
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