Video: Working with Sikh youth in Richmond Hill to stop bigotry in schools

This past Sunday, I spent the day in Richmond Hill, Queens alongside our Community Organizing Intern Gulsheen Kaur. Lately we’ve been spending our Sundays conducting surveys of Sikh youth who go to NYC public schools about their experiences with harassment and bullying. As you may know, the activism of the Sikh community and our allies led to the implementation of a new Chancellor’s regulation on bias-based harassment and bullying in the NYC Department of Education. Since October, we have surveyed hundreds of students at the gurdwaras to find out if their schools are properly implementing the new policy (the youth survey can also be filled out online here).

In this rough (emphasis on rough) video clip taken at a gurdwara in Richmond Hill, you will hear from a few students about some of the bigotry they have experienced and witnessed in their schools. Sarabvir Singh, an 8th grader at Middle School 72, explains that other students “are discriminating against patkas, they’re trying to beat us [Sikhs] up, throw things at us, touching our patkas without our permission.” Gurnam Singh, a 7th grader at the same middle school reports that other students threaten to “trim your turban.”

As we hear stories of harassment and bullying from youth in the gurdwaras, we have been contacting the Department of Education to ensure that bias-based incidents are reported (when the students want to report them) and properly investigated and addressed.

In the last month alone, we have been in conversations directly with principals from four different schools in Queens where a pattern of anti-Sikh harassment exists about coming up with strategies for meaningful change, including trainings on Sikhi for teachers and students. In a future post, you’ll hear more about this from our Education Director, Manbeena Kaur. In the mean time, a couple of Sikh students from PS 161 will give you some of their thoughts here in the video clip.

Creating a culture free of racism, religious discrimination, and other forms of bigotry in schools is a long term process that we hope to achieve one day. The Sikh youth you see in this video clip are taking leadership in this process and are in early stages of organizing a Sikh youth activist group in Richmond Hill. Sarabvir says, other kids “threaten us in different ways to just give up. Many [Sikh] kids are starting to give up on their own religion, and I want to stop that.” Gurnam continues, “All we want is peace, nothing else.” This is certainly not the last you’ll hear from them, but just a little taste of what is to come.

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