Over 200 Capital Region students spend Friday breaking down bias barriers

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LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Friday, more than 200 Capital Region students sat together to talk about breaking down the barriers bias creates.

“I am black, I am gay, and I haven’t always been accepted in all the schools I’ve been to, clubs, or sports,” explains Shaker High School Senior Gabriel Formica.

The Students Together Opposing Prejudice, or STOP, conference mixed middle and high school students from 28 different schools to share and listen to each other’s stories. 

“Ethnicity, even the police, things that people are scared to talk about because of how they’re raised, even transgender. We talked about that as well, and it just gave me a different perspective on things that I didn’t even know before,” says Demitre Schooler, also from Shaker High.

“People give them rude threats, even death threats because they’re different and since they like a different person, they do something that’s not in our minds ‘usual’ or ‘normal’, then everyone’s just rude to them, and that’s not right,” says Bethlehem Middle Schooler Penelope Holstein.

“But there is no normal, is there? For someone who is gay, that is their normal. For us, it may be something different, but no one should be judged because of that,” says classmate Nico Sanlorenzo.

Organizers for the event at Siena College say with the recent anti-Semitic attacks in New York, plus the reflection that comes with Martin Luther King Day on Monday — this conversation couldn’t come too soon.

“It’s very timely and with everything going on in our country, to just remember the work that he did and to see how we can continue to progress that work because there’s still so much to be done,” says Beth Martinez, the Education Director for the Albany Anti-Defamation League.

The theme of Friday’s conference was “intersectionality.”

“Understanding how different pieces of people’s identities connect. So whether it’s their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, talking about how everyone’s different identity pieces interconnect and using the privileges that we have in the different areas of our lives to lift up others who maybe don’t have those privileges,” Martinez explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Students say they’ve walked away with the confidence to talk about their pain and to help prevent it in others.

“It’s teaching young people you don’t have to be a victim of these things. You can be more powerful, you can speak up,” says Formica. “We can change the future.”

“I was listening to how some people had been bullied and it made me sad to hear that, but I think it makes me take a look at everyone else in a different lens by not actually being as judgmental as I used to be,” says Niskayuna High School Junior Ziv Cheng.

“Instead of being black or white, you’re human, Latino or this or that, you’re human. It teaches us to be one people, one race, one name, and that’s human,” says Schooler.

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