Town recognizes local students for activist efforts

Town recognizes local students for activist efforts
Officials from the Town of North Hempstead honored some of the local youth activists for their efforts over the past year on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the Town of North Hempstead)

Officials from the Town of North Hempstead last week recognized a handful of local students who spearheaded a variety of activist events and social justice rallies on the North Shore.

Town Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey and Clerk Wayne Wink celebrated the achievements of the students who went “above and beyond” in their communities in the forms of organizing rallies to support the Black Lives Matter movement, protests against Asian-American discrimination and planting pinwheels in honor of Child Abuse Awareness month.

Manhasset Secondary School students Ada and Ava Shu, who organized a protest against Asian-American violence that brought more than 200 demonstrators to the Mary Jane Davies Green in mid-April, were two students honored by the town. The two scheduled the event  shortly after they heard about shootings in spas in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six Asian women, in March.

Once the Shus and their friends arrived at the Davies Green before the start time, they saw a steady stream of community members gather, many with signs reading, “Stop Hate, Spread Love,” “Hate Has No Home Here,” “This is My Home Too!” and “Asians R Not Viruses.”

“Maybe we can change one person’s opinion, that person can change someone else’s,” Ava Shu said. “And eventually we can change the whole community the whole time.”

“Even though this rally is over, we’re not going to just stop,” Ada Shu said. “Even if we’re not the ones getting hurt, the others who are don’t deserve this at all, and we should try to help them as much as we can.”

Angelica Wu, a student at Great Neck North High School who spearheaded another rally to condemn Asian-American hatred in April, was also recognized for her efforts.

Around three dozen elementary and high school students from across the North Shore gathered at Grace Avenue Park in Great Neck to have their voices heard in response to the acts of hatred throughout the nation.

Wu said her main goal was to spur change in the North Hempstead community in light of the number of recent discriminatory acts towards Asian-Americans across the nation. Despite cultural teachings of “sweeping things under the rug,” Wu said, people can no longer continue to turn a blind eye to what is happening.

“When I watch the videos of our elderly being pushed to the ground, beaten, treated like nothing, I was furious and disgusted,” Wu said. “But I felt another pain when I saw how no one helped her, no one stood up for them, and no one seemed to care.”

Officials said more than 3,800 anti-Asian incidents were reported across the nation in 2020. There was also a 149 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the 16 largest cities in the U.S. in 2020, officials said.

Chelsea Cohen, also from Great Neck North High School, was honored by the town for her efforts in organizing Black Lives Matter protests and being one of the organizing founders of the Instagram page @greatneckprotests in order to take activism beyond the internet.

Hundreds attended the Black Lives Matter protest held in Grace Avenue Park in June of last year. Students, parents, and members of the Great Neck community made signs and peacefully protested in the park and marched through the main streets.

Shayna Blumenfeld, an eighth-grade student at Weber Middle School and youth ambassador for the child safety advocacy group Kyra’s Champions  led the group in planting 744 blue pinwheels at the Mary Jane Davies Green in Manhasset and Blumenfeld Family Park in Port Washington in April.

Blumenfeld became involved with the organization when she heard Kyra’s Champions founder Jacqueline Franchetti of Manhasset speak last year, spurred on by an interest in politics.

In the summer of 2016, Franchetti’s daughter Kyra was killed by her father at his home in Fairfax, Virginia, while on an unsupervised, court-sanctioned visit. The sleeping 2-year-old was shot twice in the back before her father set the house on fire and shot himself to death.

Franchetti recruited Blumenfeld to co-chair the event. As part of her role, Blumenfeld attended planning meetings with the Town of North Hempstead, assembled and sent packets of pinwheels across the state, and even staked out the parks ahead of time.

“We connected over the summer,” Blumenfeld said of her connection with Franchetti. “I got to hear her talk at Zoom meetings and I thought she was really, really incredible.”

The number of pinwheels placed at each park, 744, not only represent Kyra and the other 18 children in New York state who have been murdered by their father or mother while going through a child custody case, divorce or separation, but 725 children whose deaths are said to have been hidden by Child Protective Services.

Rose Weldon contributed reporting.

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