The violent events that occurred last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, could happen here, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick told an audience of students, faculty, staff and community members at Ithaca College.
“What will we do if a rally like this were to happen here?” Myrick asked. “How would we make sure that everybody stays safe? How will we protect everybody’s right to free speech? And how do we do that without giving a platform to those who would preach hatred and bigotry?”
Myrick’s comments came during a public dialogue with Ithaca City School District Superintendent Luvelle Brown on Tuesday, Sept. 5, during which both community leaders offered their reflections on the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and discussed how the Ithaca community can address racism and other forms of bigotry.
“Moving Forward: A Conversation with Dr. Luvelle Brown and Mayor Svante Myrick,” was moderated by Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell, director of programs and outreach at Ithaca College.
“It was one of the most public, visible and grotesque displays of hate that I have seen in my lifetime,” Bradwell said of the Charlottesville rally in his opening remarks. “Yet I’m optimistic, because I know that as much as hate comes in waves, so do movements of justice and love. I’m asking my community to be ready for a wave of justice.”
Brown, who grew up in Charlottesville, told the audience that the events in the city, where one person was killed, impacted him deeply and caused him to question his role as an educator.
“All the things we’ve done in the school district — all the things I’ve done as a professional educator — I’m back to square one,” said Brown. “We need to do something different. Conversations need to be more challenging. You must become comfortable with conflict. Policies are going to have to shift.”
He specifically called out policies in Ithaca’s public schools that have contributed to achievement gaps among students of different races. He acknowledged that change would be difficult, but said that “there couldn’t be a community in a better position to have this conversation” than Ithaca.
Myrick called on those in attendance, especially students, to take an active role in the community through mentoring. He specifically addressed a group of first-year students in the audience.
“I encourage you to reach out to young people in the community,” he said. “Our young people need to see themselves in you. Because once they do, it will adjust what they think is possible.”
Both men drew optimism from the caliber of leadership in Ithaca, specifically referencing Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado, who after Charlottesville issued a message to the campus community explicitly condemning “violent hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and bigotry.”
The discussion was attended by roughly 200 people. Sarah Vengen, a senior psychology major from Media, Pennsylvania, attended so that she could process her feelings about Charlottesville and expressed her desire to actively fight back against hatred in society.
“I want to be an active member of my community in Ithaca, back home, and in the world,” she said.