Armani Rivera, 14, recalled the day she made a purchase at a candy store and was treated with suspicion by the clerk.
“He waved me away,” she said.
Ilay Fachima, 15, remembers the day a passerby threw a penny at him and said “pick it up, Jew.”
“I answered him back,” said Fachima. “I put him on the spot.”
Theirs were among many perspectives shared during an emotional lunchtime gathering at City Hall last week, as two groups of 10th graders from Brooklyn gathered to discuss encounters with prejudice based on their religious or racial identity. They also shared what they knew about slavery in America and the Holocaust.
One group, predominantly African American and Latino, came from Brooklyn Academy High School. The other was from Yeshivah of Flatbush’s Joel Braverman High School.
The two schools are only blocks apart in Midwood, Brooklyn, but the student bodies live in different worlds: Flatbush is an entirely Jewish private school, while the Academy is a heavily minority public school.
To help bridge the gap, City Council members David Greenfield and Jumaane Williams, Democrats who represent adjoining districts in Brooklyn that include both schools, arranged for a shared visit first to the Museum of Jewish Heritage-Living Memorial to the Holocaust, then to the African American Burial Ground, with the City Hall lunch discussion wedged in between.
The politicians didn’t just listen. They had their own stories to tell.
When Greenfield, as a kid, passed a local public school in Midwood, he heard shouts of “Get the Jew, and seconds later he was on the ground being pummeled.
“I got the heck kicked out of me just for roller skating past a block in my neighborhood,” Greenfield said.
Williams’ experience was more recent. Attending the West Indian Day Parade in Crown Heights in 2011, he was detained by police officers for nearly an hour after trying to walk through a secured area, despite his having presented his City Council credentials.
“There is a perception about what an elected official looks like and and what a criminal looks like,” said Williams, who wears his hair in long dreadlocks. “I think too often in my case these things are confused.”
Over kosher bagels and sodas in the Council’s Red Room, the teens took up discussion points prompted by their politician hosts, dealing with desensitization toward others, stereotyping and the need to understand other communities by learning about their historical suffering.
Kids from both groups said they had benefited just from coming together.
“In my community there are not a lot of Jewish people to talk to,” said Rivera, a 10th grader who lives in Fort Greene. “I enjoyed seeing the videos and artifacts [at the museum], and talking to the other kids was very insightful.”
Fachima added: “It was a great experience and really opened our eyes a bit to help us be more sympathetic to other people.”
Greenfield, who described Williams as “one of my best friends in the Council,” despite their different political perspectives on issues (Greenfield is more conservative ) said the event was a product of political maturation.
“We’re both freshmen,” he said. “When we first got elected we were busy serving the immediate needs of our districts. But after a few years we wanted to expand our horizons and deal with bigger issues.”
Williams, whose district was expanded in the recent remapping process to include a larger slice of the Jewish area of Midwood said, “My staff is always looking for ways to to bring all kinds of people together.
“We all want the same things, but there are different obstacles to getting them, depending on what community you live in.”
In a demonstration of his ties with local Jews, Williams greeted the crowd with “Shalom Aleichem, Ma Nishma?”, Hebrew for “Peace to you, what’s new?”