AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
"Imagine a World Without Hate," an 80-second public service video by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), commemorates the 100th anniversary of the world's leading civil rights/human relations agency by reinforcing its founding concept: to deter and counteract intolerance and hate.
The video, set to John Lennon's "Imagine," asks people to imagine the impact victims of hate crimes would have had on society if their lives hadn't been cut short by racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism. It pays tribute to the lives of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., hate crime victims Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., Holocaust victim Anne Frank, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and slain journalist Daniel Pearl.
According to a recent ADL press release, more than 1 million people worldwide have viewed the video, which was released on March 20. It went viral on the Internet, inspiring "tweets and shares on social media from prominent individuals, celebrities and news sites."
To continue the fight against prejudice in local communities, ADL is developing a guide to enable educators to use the video in classrooms to teach young people about the impact of unchecked hatred.
"The video is a powerful and creative way to help people understand why ADL exists and what our mission is," says Gary Jones, regional director of the Connecticut ADL, which was founded in the early 1950s.
"When you view the video, there are also a number of actions steps, so people can be personally involved in creating a world without hate," he adds.
"The people who formed the ADL in 1913 realized if you're worried about one group in society, you have to be worried about all groups in society," Jones says. "You can't only be concerned about the Jewish people's place in our society, but everyone's. That was the mission statement 100 years ago and it's still true today. But if you're trying to fight hate, you can't be just a nationally-based organization, you have to be on the ground to have effective ability to counter hate and enhance respect for difference."
And that's why, Jones explains, ADL has a regional office structure with 28 offices nationwide that work in their regions to accomplish the organization's objectives.
Among the CT ADL's success stories in changing public policy was aggressively leading efforts to implement the new anti-bullying law that was signed into legislation by Gov. Malloy in 2011.
In its educational efforts, ADL established its A World of Difference Institute in Connecticut 22 years ago. The institute provides anti-bias education in schools and universities; in 2012, ADL's staff and trainers reached more than 20,000 students in K-12 and on college campuses, as well as teachers, parents, state employees and community members.
Jones credits "the quality and ingenuity" of CT ADL educators with developing the Names Can Really Hurt Us high school assembly program, which is now being implemented by ADLs across the country.
Coast Guard gets onboard
In 2008, CT ADL launched a program for the cadets at New London's Coast Guard Academy.
"Chief Diversity Officer Antonio Farias was one of the main folks who contacted us to find out what we had to offer," says Michelle Pincince-A World of Difference Institute project director. "He liked the idea of their cadets being able to reach out and educate other cadets about diversity, respect for differences, and creating a welcoming and inclusive campus."
Every year CT ADL trains a team of 20 to 30 students that the Coast Guard calls DPEs: Diversity Peer Educators.
"The DPEs were instrumental in briefing out and facilitating discussions on this year's gender relations survey dealing with topics of sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender bias," says Farias. "Of greatest interest to us is that the DPEs who graduated and are now officers are using their ADL-trained expertise out in the fleet, and that commanding officers are seeing it as a value-add to their ability to develop cultural competency and facilitation on their ships."
Pincince points out that the Coast Guard program is very well connected to the ADL's centennial in terms of imagining a world without hate.
"They look at how do you stop hate from developing? And it's about addressing the little things," she says. "We use something called The Pyramid of Hate with the cadets. It shows how hate develops from those little things: jokes, rumors, stereotypes. Once those take root, they can grow into prejudice, discrimination, violence and, even in extreme situations, genocide."
In light of such recent atrocities as the Newtown school shooting and Boston Marathon bombing, does it shake the ADL's belief that a world without hate is really possible, that the organization can make a difference?
"I've been doing this for almost 17 years and I'm still inspired every day," Pincince says. "I have a lot of hope because on almost a daily basis, I get to witness young people learning to stand up and stop being bystanders. The more allies we create, the greater the change we can create."
"If you observe our program over time and pay attention to the school systems where they're provided, you will see a positive change in school climates, real measurable progress in terms of race relations, acceptance of the gay community, and other areas of diversity" Jones says.
Pincince refers to a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that started circulating on the Internet after the Boston bombing: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that."
"We are in the business of creating more light and I think our light is stronger than the darkness," she says.
To view the "Imagine a World Without Hate" video, visit http://www.adl.org/imagine.