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Young Storytellers Take The Stage At Cleveland 'Unity Against Hate' Rally

#UnityAgainstHate is a national movement to combat AAPI hate crimes. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]
#UnityAgainstHate is a national movement to combat AAPI hate crimes. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities across Northeast Ohio joined the national #UnityAgainstHate movement with a rally and march in Downtown Cleveland’s Public Square Saturday afternoon.

Unity Against Hate is a national movement put together by several AAPI organizations. The movement encouraged people across the country to organize and attend rallies on the same day and at the same time to speak against hate crimes and harassment toward AAPIs.

Unity Against Hate rallies took place all over the country Saturday. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]

More than 100 people attended Cleveland’s rally, which featured 16 speakers, several of which were high school and college students.

Laura Wei, an Orange High School sophomore, shared stories of experiencing racist jokes in class. She said other students are too often not held accountable for racist taunts and slurs.

“The problem is the normalization of these jokes and comments at a young age because, ultimately, the negative habits and stereotypes that you develop as children are the negative habits and stereotypes that you keep for life,” Wei said.

“We’re really proud of them,” said Jackie Jernejcic, who helped organize the rally with the Ohio Chapter of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA). “We’re also trying to coach our youth to be able to speak up for themselves.”

Laura Wei, an Orange High School sophomore, shared a personal story at the Unity Against Hate Rally. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]

The last group of speakers were three high school students who, through a college readiness program, started a project — Students Advancing Friendship and Empathy — that encourages social justice education. 

“I think the kids as always will be the leadership. They have an incentive because they want a better more peaceful future, and they can lead the adults in this way,” said Teri Wang, the students’ college readiness advisor.

Sol Rivera, Kayla Jiang, advisor Teri Wang and Vincent Chen from Students Advancing Friendship and Empathy. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]

When Vincent Chen, a University School senior headed for Duke University next school year, took the mic, he mentioned the similarity of his name to Vincent Chin’s – a Chinese American man who was beaten to death in 1982 by two men who didn’t receive any jail time.

Chen noted the importance of knowing the history of racism against AAPIs as advocates work to end it.

He said he was happy to be able to share this history lesson with a diverse crowd.

“I think that’s a really important aspect about gaining equality for minorities here in America. We can’t fight with each other. We have to have solidarity. We have to support each other. We fight for each other’s causes in order to make everything right,” Chen said.

The march through Public Square was lead by Pearl Chen with and her megaphone. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream}

Before transitioning from rally to march, Jernejcic gathered the organizers to the front of the crowd and pointed out that many of them are mothers who want to protect their children from racist hate and attacks.

“The world is supposed to be getting better and better, right? Now it feels like there is a wave to go back in history and that’s scary. That keeps me up at night,” Jernejcic said. “Honestly, COVID doesn’t worry me too much in stress, but all of these social issues, thinking about the future, that is what stresses me the most.”

Jackie Jernejcic helped organize the really with the Ohio Chapter of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA). [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.