‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ forum
The Act Against Hate Alliance (AAHA) recently hosted the “Leaders of Tomorrow” forum to search for solutions in response to a rising tide of hate crimes in California. A recent report from the office of the California Attorney General found that the numbers of hate crimes in California are at their highest level in more than two decades.
Those numbers are troubling to Chase Masterson, who founded and runs an organization called The Heroic Journey. Masterson, who rose to fame as the cast member “Leeta” in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, now uses her considerable influence to teach love and understanding.
“I am here today because I am devoted to ending it (hate) in all its forms,” Masterson announced during the forum.
Masterson revealed that fame as an actress can bring unwanted attention. She was the victim of a stalker. She faced threats of violence.
“Thankfully, I learned the tools of mental health,” Masterson said as she dealt with fear. “People who have been hurt sometimes respond by hurting others. But people who have been healed tend to heal others.”
The AAHA forum also drew input from high school and college students in both Northern and Southern California. They described similar instances of how hate can be found on every campus, and steps that can be taken to reduce it. Hailey Wells is a student at Sacred Heart Schools in the community of Atherton.
“I feel like everything starts on social media,” Wells revealed during the AAHA forum. “It seems like everyone is either on one side or the other. There’s a lot of name-calling. There is not a lot of discussion, so I think that drives the hate even more.”
The revelation by Wells was echoed by other student leaders, including Aidan Chao. He is a rising senior at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada Flintridge.
“A lot of teachers and students resort to ‘group think,’ which stifles free speech,” Chao said. “In the name of tolerance and diversity, a lot of people get shut down.”
Chao says his solution to “groupthink” is to bring up topics that unite students rather than divide them.
“As students, we need to take pride in what we stand for as a nation,” Chao revealed. “This country was not built on hate.”
Utkarsh Jain is a third-year student at the University of California Berkeley. He has witnessed the rise of intolerance on his own campus. But he also believes in solutions.
“The people that preach the most inclusiveness can also be the most intolerant,” Jain said. “I always try to encourage people to think about what they say, and openly discuss issues with students who feel like they have no voice.”
Nicolas Hernandez is a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton. He is engaged with civic organizations and leaders in his hometown of Walnut, agrees with Wells on the dark impulses that can be found on social media. His solution is not to hide behind a computer screen.
“Social media is a place where hate often starts, but I believe in open dialogue,” Hernandez said. “Don’t just promote conversation. Promote understanding instead.”
Remy Garcia-Kakebeen will soon start her freshman year at Princeton University. She is looking forward to the experience and the opportunity to promote change where she can.
“Words do hurt,” Kakebeen admitted. “Disregarding words is not a skill that everyone has. Raising awareness is really important to create the desire to make a change.”
Former California Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff and Mei Mei Ho Huff co-founded AAHA out of a desire to change a landscape of thinking that gave rise to an explosion of hate crimes in California.
“There are solutions to turning the tide of hate crimes and we must find them and implement them,” said Mei Mei Huff. “We cannot afford to allow our deep unity to be subverted by these horrific actions.”
This article is a part of a series of articles for Our Weekly's #StopTheHate campaign and is supported in whole or part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library. #NoPlaceForHateCA,