BY ANNA GUSTAFSON
While Queens is one of the most diverse areas in the world, it is also often segregated and there needs to be a dialogue about how to create an inclusive society in which individuals can accept and learn from each other’s differences, speakers said at a forum hosted by LaGuardia Community College and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York last week.
Individuals from education, government and health care sectors spoke at Friday’s four-hour event held at LaGuardia in an effort to address “how we create a society of inclusivity that allows its diversity to work and prosper,” said Rabbi Bob Kaplan, director of CAUSE-NY, the intergroup relations division of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
“You can do what I call the subway experiment and watch where people get off and you’ll see we have segregated communities,” said Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis Walcott. “I live in Cambria Heights, and it is predominantly black.”
Walcott and Patricia Gatling, head of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, emphasized the need for public systems that will inspire individuals to respect others radically different from themselves.
“We have the responsibility to make sure people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds go to school together to break down barriers,” Walcott said. “%u2026 It has to go into policy development and community actions and it falls on the shoulders of individuals to talk about what diversity and inclusion means.”
Gatling, who grew up in Jamaica, said there must be more outreach efforts to educate people about their rights and what constitutes a hate crime so a victim of such an act can identify it and know who to contact for help. Additionally, she said better enforcement of discrimination legislation needs to occur.
“Can we legislate attitudes?” Gatling asked. “Probably not, but if we control actions, I hope attitudes will organically follow.”
State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and City Councilman-elect Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) agreed government officials in Queens had to represent constituents from a wide range of backgrounds.
“Without a doubt politics in New York City is rooted in ethnicity and religion and that which makes us different instead of what unites us,” said Lancman, who went on to cite the racial politics that played a role in the 19th Council District race between Kevin Kim and Dan Halloran in northeast Queens.
Dromm said he believed government officials also needed to reflect the diversity of their communities.
“I take that label and wear it proudly,” Dromm said of being gay.
Dromm echoed Gatling’s sentiment that education about hate crimes and other forms of discrimination are necessary, especially in light of the recent beating of Jack Price, a College Point man who is openly gay. The crime was caught on tape and cameras recorded two men yelling derogatory phrases referring to Price’s sexual orientation.
David Banks, the principal of the all-boys Eagle Academy school in the Bronx, said while Queens is diverse but segregated, it is important to challenge the status quo.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with strong ethnic identities, but you need to accept others,” Banks said. “It takes a lot of education and exposure to do this. Children need to be exposed to what diversity really means.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.