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IntegrateNYC4Me: Pushing Back Against Segregated Schools in NYC and Beyond

IntegrateNYC4Me: Pushing Back Against Segregated Public Schools in NYC and Beyond

Check out this archived EmbraceRace Community Conversation with leaders of IntergrateNYC4Me. In New York City, home to among the most segregated schools in the country, IntegrateNYC4Me, this student-led effort, is pushing back hard against educational segregation and the inequities it represents in their city and across the country. Find out how, why, and what difference its made so far – both to the cause and to the student leaders themselves.

EmbraceRace's Andrew and Melissa facilitate a community conversation with IntegrateNYC4Me co-founder Sarah Camiscoli and with student leaders Matt Diaz and Hebh Jamal. An edited transcript and more resources follow.

"Youth! Voice! Integrates!"

EmbraceRace: It was 60 years ago almost to the day that nine black kids formally integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They became known as the Little Rock Nine. Talk about bravery! They did it in the space of unbelievable amounts of armed resistance from a lot of the white people in Little Rock, including the governor. It's really sad to have to acknowledge that over the last 50 years our public schools have actually become more segregated than they were 10 years after Little Rock and 3 years after Brown v. Board of Education.

We are joined today by three leaders of a New York based advocacy group called IntegrateNYC4Me. These folks believe, not only that racial and economic segregation is a serious problem, but also that students can help lead the way in doing something about it, not only New York City, but throughout the country. Let me turn to our guests, with Melissa’s and my deep appreciation for spending this time with us.

Thank you all for joining us. Sarah, I'm going to turn it over to you first, to give us some backdrop on IntegrateNYC4Me.

Sarah: I want to thank everyone for logging on and for supporting EmbraceRace Community Conversations as I think they are really committed to sharing and honesty and expanding the way we talk about race.

To honor the 60th anniversary of Little Rock Nine, I'd like for us to both draw on that history and to think about the ways that we want to revise that older definition of integration and to transform it in a way that honors young people across race and class today. I’m going to share with you a short presentation that gives a little bit of information about the work that we do and share a few ways that you can get involved.

Why support students to lead on integration? Aren't students hard to organize?

I like to start with the question, why students? Students sometimes are hard to communicate with and sometimes don't listen and sometimes are late for things and are young and not all of them have college degrees, right? So why students, why would we want to bring young people into this work? This is a conversation that I don't necessarily think we have openly but which I think is really important to have. There are a lot of obstacles that can come in the way when involving the young people into adult dominated spaces, which tend to be the spaces that run our school systems and our government. But I want to first draw on why students.

Congressman John Lewis - one of the heralded of leaders from SNCC, and one of the reasons why we see integration as a civil right in our society today - he said once that: "students make things real, make things clean, and make things simple." This was one of the sit-ins that show young people standing for their right to integrate a space where they had the right to integrate but they weren't necessarily given that access. And so by having young people occupy the spaces and speak the truth of the rights that they have made really demonstrate either the hypocrisy or the oversight that a school system can have particularly around the issue of integration.

But I think one thing to really make clear and one thing that we have been asked to make clear by many of the folks who are somewhat doubtful about integration is that, Congressman John Lewis was not fighting for the Little Rock Nine to enter school and be abused. Congressman John Lewis and SNCC were fighting for equal access to political power and to resources. And within the movement itself. Congressman John Lewis said they stood for "beloved community.”

And so these are things that we really want to speak about and want to honor. Not to confuse integration with ever stripping young people of color of their dignity for the sake of having access or access to resources. It's a much deeper, much more complex, much longer journey than that.

​One piece of history that I like to draw on is that the largest civil rights demonstration in the history of the United States - YES the history of the United States - was in 1964 led by mostly black and Puerto Rican students from the Bronx and from Harlem in New York City. They were protesting a vague policy set forth by the New York City Department of Education to integrate schools [a policy so vague and toothless that segregation continued undisturbed]. Several months after the students marched 15,000 white mothers from East Queens marched to city hall and as a result the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was rewritten to allow de facto segregation. I give this history because it speaks one to the fact that young people have stood for this work and have had some of the most incredible demonstrations.

The 1964 NYC Schools Boycott

And we for some reason have forgotten to include them in much of the diversity and integration work that we've seen in recent times. In addition, I bring this story up because it speaks to the fact that if we don't find ways to build powerful multiracial coalitions where in which young people are respected by adults and that we build those coalitions across communities, we see things like the 1964 rewriting of the Civil Rights Act and the protest of white mothers from Queens that actually did more damage to the school system.

The Five R's Framework

Real integration" can not be a repeat of the Little Rock Nine's experience. We are not about stripping young people of color of their dignity for the sake of having access or access to resources. It's a much deeper, much more complex, much longer journey than that.

We've thought about this definition of what we call “real integration,” understanding that we need multiracial coalitions, understanding that we need multigenerational coalitions, and that we need young people's experience at the center. We've developed what we call the 5 R's of Real Integration. These are questions that over the course of the last four years our students have asked us:

  • Who attends their school?
  • Who works in your school?
  • What is in your school?
  • How do people interact in your school?
  • And how is behavior managed in your school?

Our students have developed this framework in which they've created five committees on these five issues that they think can explore the areas where in which segregation has a large impact.

The Five R's Framework

The first of the 5 R's of Real Integration is Race and Enrollment. Who is in your school? How did they get in there? And who graduates?

The second is Representation on Staff - who's hired and who’s teaching at your school? One of the histories of integration that we often overlook is that black teachers were fired en masse after integration initiatives because they were said to not be able to teach white students as well as white teachers could. We need to be really present to that history as we advocate for integration really name that to honor that experience.

The next R is Resource Allocation. During the Little Rock Nine, nine black students integrated a white school but what about the schools that they came from? What happened to those schools? They were still severely neglected and they were not invested in. When we speak about integration, are we speaking about maintaining hubs of white privilege?

Fourth is Relationships Across Group Identities. In this group, students talk about culturally responsive curriculum and mandated professional development. Why do teachers have to take things such as mandated bullying training but don't necessarily have to take culturally responsive pedagogical training? Especially in a school system that teachers 85 percent youth of color as in New York City?

And finally, Restorative Practices. Let's say we reach a world where our schools reflect the demographics of our city: the representation of staff reflects that demographic, resources are fairly allocated, and teachers are teaching and learning and growing in their pedagogical practices and being culturally responsive. How are young people disciplined and how is disciplined managed? This is of course connected to the school to prison pipeline and it doesn't only rest in our schools but definitely can begin there.

So these are pictures of the five action committees that the young people have and you can see their powerful, smiley faces and some of their not so smiley faces because they mean business. This is Hebh Jamal running the show at a rally at city hall. And I will be pulling up some images of Matthew as well to embarrass them and see how wonderful they are. I just want to give some examples of some of the work that we've done as well.

5 Action Committees

What do these committees do? The relationships committee this year planned a citywide school exchange where we have students from highly selective, predominantly white schools exchange with students from unscreened, predominantly black and Latino schools, both on subways and on yellow buses. And we did this to show that these students are historically barred from going to school together. But look what happens when they do, they can get there. They interact and they even build ideas for deconstructing structural racism. So this is part of an awareness building campaign.We may not be thinking that these young people should go to school together. But why not?

For our race and enrollment committee, Hebh Jamal will speak about this later, she and her co-lead redesigned the high school algorithm so that it doesn't only weigh GPA and test scores, but that it also weighs factors such as free lunch eligibility, mother's education level, ESL status, and temporary housing status. What would it look like if our school system prioritized diversity factors in the same way as it prioritized academic achievement?

Restorative Justice Initiative

A restorative justice group has done projects such as the no scan zone movement. In some of our most severely segregated schools, we see a large number of SSA's (school safety agents) which are a department within the police NYPD that work in schools. And we also see a large number of metal detectors where students can wait for hours to get into the building and can deal with physical altercations from SSA's. And this happens in our lowest income and highest concentrations of black and Latino students. We see this as an issue of segregation as well.

Another example of committee work - the resource allocation committee does a “what's in your school” project. We're looking at comparative research done by young people to show the disparities in resources across schools. So as we think about integrating our city into our public schools where are we asking people to go to school and where are young people going to school that we're not speaking about in this conversation? Often in integration conversations there are what we call "boutique schools" that are predominantly white schools where several young people of color are invited to come in under certain criteria, when in reality the rest of the schools in the district remain largely neglected and under-resourced. What would it look like if we held the same standards for schools for resources across the school district as we do for enrollment policies?

Resource Allocation Committee

Real integration goes hand in hand with real representation. That is, the experience of students most impacted by segregation needs to be elevated and needs to inform change

Finally, in addition to standing for real integration, we also stand for real representation and we believe that real representation of students derives from the level at which we invest in their leadership development. As an organization, we stand to have our young people in organizing and governing positions so that the actual impact on their life trajectories exceeds the expectations of what we might think is possible for young people.

The more we invest in their leadership and the higher you go up the ladder the greater we see self-actualization. And there's actually even more basic factors such as you see longer life expectancies, and we see less physical diagnoses in a lifetime, and so positive youth development has actually shown to increase the health, increase the lifespan, and increase the education and overall satisfaction and self-actualization of young people, regardless of the topic. This is not just in integration.

EmbraceRace: Thank you so much Sarah. We're really excited that you're all here. Matt, you are the Youth Director of National Outreach and I'm wondering how you got that position.

Matt: I had the opportunity to choose a job connected to what I want to do as a career in the future. I wanted to connect our work to students all over the U.S. about this work so we created the Integrate US Virtual Institute. We help students around the country - eight different states right now - to move forward on this movement of school integration. It amazes me that so many students are taking a leadership role on this and that I am one of them!

EmbraceRace: So you've seen that transformation in yourself you're saying?

Matt: Definitely!

Matthew Diaz

How are youth leaders challenging an enrollment system that maintains status quo segregation in NYC?

EmbraceRace: Hebh, what about you in your role leading the Committee on Race and Enrollment? In another conversation, we learned about "coding boot camp"? Can you tell us about that?

Hebh: So essentially, me and another colleague of mine spent 10 hours over the course of two days with the goal of coming up with an alternate algorithm to the one that New York City uses for school enrollment. I saw a comment in the chat about San Francisco and how it didn't really work there, changing the algorithm.

The difference in NYC is that every single student has to go through this algorithm. It's specifically for applying to public school. And the reason why right now the algorithm is very problematic is that it focuses on testing metrics. And instead we want to say that because segregation was intentional, integration has to also be intentional. We want to shift that emphasis and place more weight on the demographics of diversity in our public schools. For example, we added more weight on things like mothers education level, and free reduced lunch, and ESL levels, etcetera, etcetera. And these metrics can be adjusted based on what we want and what's missing in every school. The idea was to create more diversity and more inclusion within public schools. The current metric is definitely one that's supporting a status quo of segregated schools in New York City. Afterwards, once we added these metrics and added more points for students that didn't meet the levels of current screened schools, afterwards they actually were able to get accepted into these schools. And it was a more diverse and all inclusive school.

It’s still a prototype, but that was the general idea.

EmbraceRace: I'm wondering about the politics of that and how difficult it was to do and the discussions you had about ... what criteria are legitimate ones to include, and how to weight them differently, those sorts of things?

Hebh: It's incredibly difficult. The person who created the choice algorithm was a Nobel Prize winner. So this is very complicated.

But what we did is, we didn't focus on studying the algorithm itself. We said, let's put that aside and let's come up with a very simple idea. Put the stress on demographics of diversity instead of metrics such as test scores. Once you have that intention, then everything else could be simple. I mean, if a bunch of high school students at the time could come up with an algorithm that does something so simply I'm pretty sure such an algorithm could be adopted.

The issue is advocating for something like this based on an understanding that the current algorithm, because there was no intention of integration or diversity, perpetuated segregated schools by race and class etc. etc.

And by the way, screened schools, just to reiterate is when schools have barriers of entry, like you have to take a specific test to get in, or in my case I went to high school that was very affluent and it was considered a screened school and prestigious because I had to take an interview and I had to submit a portfolio.

At a lot of other schools, all you really have to do is apply. But it's a really complicated process for screened schools. This particular algorithm was specifically tackling screened schools and how boutique schools can lead to the perpetuation of segregation.

Hebh Jamal

No matter what, we're swimming in racism and segregation. There will be gaming and blatant resistance to integration. And so I'm really interested in thinking about how we have [guards against those inevitabilities] integrated into citywide policy rather than acting as if they don't exist.

EmbraceRace: Isn't it the case, certainly many people feel that it is the case, that wherever there are things to be allocated, like spots in "good schools" - the schools that people want to get into versus the ones that fewer people may want to get into that. Whatever you do, like changing an algorithm, the more advantaged parents and families and communities learn how to game the system, whatever the system is. And here's a question that speaks to that.

The comment is this: "We found affluent parents organized networks to share information to game the system. I work with a black parent groups and hear many black parents don't even go through the application process. We're working with families but, without concentrated outreach, many families didn't even know this process exists."

Sarah: I would love to respond to that. Allison, I'm not sure where you're from, but I had the privilege of going to Los Angeles and visiting the magnet schools and really learning about these games. There were counselors to support primarily white, middle-class and affluent parents to get their children into the magnet schools with the highest concentration of resources and white students.

This exists in New York. These games exist all over the country. In NYC, everyone has to go through the admissions process to be assigned to a school. [There are no neighborhood schools.] And if you do not go through the admissions process, your school is held responsible for that. So we need to think about not just outreach - outreach can miss those communities that are navigating the most barriers to entry. It's really important for the school district to be held accountable to make sure that every one of those applications is filled out. Not just by parents, but also within the schools themselves, that students themselves have access to counselors. In New York, for example, some students have access to counselors who help them generate portfolios to get into renown arts programs. While others, for example in Hebh's experience, have counselors who told her, "you won't get into that school.”

That's another piece as well NOT putting the responsibility on parents. To me that's a secondary. The primary responsibility should be on the school system to make sure all those applications are completed and that every young person is included in that integration process. So that there's no pilots, no specific magnet programs, and there's one application for all students.

Hebh: So you don't want to teach people to the game system. You want to make the system more fair to begin with.

Sarah: One more thing I want to add. Racism is not going away in the first five years that we work on the integration issue. No matter what, we're swimming in racism and segregation. There will be gaming and blatant resistance to integration. And so I'm really interested in thinking about how we have [guards against those inevitabilities] integrated into citywide policy rather than acting as if they don't exist. I really appreciate Allison broaching those issues and agree we must think intentionally about them as we design our policies.

In Brown v. Board in 1954, and in the Little Rock case in Arkansas in 1957, integration was about getting some black identified bodies into all-white schools. You're trying to do something much more profound with your "five R’s framework." To what degree do you think racial bias remains at the heart of this problem of segregated schools?

EmbraceRace: I want to ask you about the distinction between what I call "formal integration" and what you, Sarah, called "real integration." When you think about parents gaming the system, part of that is about parents wanting the best for their own children and not necessarily wanting the best for all children. But you know that that in itself it seems to me isn't necessarily a "racist" thing to do.

On the other hand, we know that discriminatory racial attitudes and bigotry are pervasive and remain pervasive. What I would like to know is to what degree do you think racial bias remains at the heart of this problem of segregated schools? In Brown v. Board in 1954, and in the Little Rock case in Arkansas in 1957, integration there was just about getting some black identified bodies into all white schools. You're trying to do something much more profound, which is to do some of that but also to use your "five R’s framework."

The fact that we still need to do this work, that even as the demographics of our country have changed, we are more segregated now than we were 50 years ago. How much of that has to do with how we feel about each other, at the level of attitudes and, you know, that visceral stuff?

Sarah: Yeah. So interesting. Today we met with the Fair Housing Justice Center in New York and we were watching a video of testers who would go to landlords to ask if they had apartments available. And they saw, of course, disparate responses between black respondents and white respondents. Dramatically so.

And what Nikole Hannah-Jones said in response to this was that segregation was so powerful because all the way from the individual, to the city level, to the state level, and to the federal level, there was agreement after the Great Depression that we had to keep people separate to grow a middle class and to keep blacks and whites separate from one another. This is all the water that we swim in. And this was something that was generated from the individual bias all the way up with all of those individuals voting on city state and federal levels.

And so what I think is really important is to address that we all live with bias. I work at IntegrateNYC4Me and I live with racism and bias in my life every single day. I believe that anyone who does not believe they live with bias actually is probably doing more harm than they are doing good. If we're not realizing that the infrastructure we're living and working and learning and loving in drips with bias and that we have stuff to address, I think that's an issue.

That all being said, to address integration, we generate a youth council that reflects the world we want to see, but then we also have that youth council implement policies on city and state levels and advocate for national networks to have that happen all the way up. To address the fact that segregation was implemented from individual bias all the way up to state and federal bias.

I also would push though because sometimes we leave it with - if we've addressed bias or we have a good relationship with someone across race, then we feel like we've absolved ourselves in some way of that. When in reality that means we have another level up to go while still addressing the interpersonal stuff.

You can't just wait for the old generation to die out. Because racism is institutional, it's going to bleed down in every single aspect of our lives. And unless we actually break those institutions down, we are going to be those older people saying the same thing to the younger generation.

EmbraceRace: That's a huge point. It's multilevel, it's complicated and we need to address it at multiple levels.

So I just want to go to Matt and Hebh and focus for a moment on the issue of bias, particularly bias among high school students. There are a lot of people who are pointing to the increased number of kids of color all to say this is a new age. We just need to wait until the old people with racial bias die off. And the young people with new enlightened attitudes around race take over, people like you. Do you see reason to hope that that this is going to be a new and different generation that's going to take us away from the pervasive message racism that Sarah is pointing to?

Matt: Well I live in New York City which is very diverse, but even still, you take two train stops down from a Black and Latino neighborhood and suddenly you’re in an entirely white neighborhood.

Hebh: Yep. Although New York City is one of the most diverse places to live in, we're one of the most segregated across community lines. So the question is, why is it that New York City is one of the most segregated school systems across the country? You would think it would be a school in the south. But in fact, New York City never had the intention to integrate to begin with. We talk about integration, we talked about Brown versus Board of Ed, but there was no process to actually desegregate schools [in the North]. [NYC schools were] never really desegregated in order to become integrated. On that point, one of our R's focuses on the relationships that students have between each other. So it's not just physical diversity within a school, but it's also how do students interact with each other? How could you eliminate this racial bias through culturally responsive pedagogy? How do you bring people together? You can't just wait for the old generation to die out. Because racism is institutional, it's going to bleed down in every single aspect of our lives. And unless we actually break those institutions down, we are going to be those older people saying the same thing to the younger generation. Change doesn't happen by itself. It happens when people advocate and push for it.

We may be seeing a more progressive generation, but we have to make sure that progressiveness is tied with intentional civic engagement, or that progressiveness just becomes a rant on social media.

Sarah: I think we see a generation that is more progressive in its voting patterns or its articulated interests. But to Hebh's point, not only institutionally do we need to break down structural racism, but we also have young people to be conscious of their political systems. If young people are not conscious of voting for city council members, voting for state senators, voting for president ... you had 90 million people who didn't vote! If we allow a civic disengagement on behalf of young people, that's where I think some of our issues are going to really lie. We may be seeing a more progressive generation, but we have to make sure that progressiveness is tied with intentional civic engagement, or that progressiveness just becomes a rant on social media.

And so that's something that we're really interested in is that consciousness so that young people can implement their progressiveness, which we see in polls all around the country, while also dismantling and restructuring the systems where in which they live and work.

​How can we really speak to our answer, which is that you create real representation of students and you stand for a real integration of public schools, ... [at the same time that we] don't deny the debate around charters and the fact that they were largely built to address a public school system that failed to meet the needs of communities of color?

EmbraceRace: We got a question about the movie you guys are in. It dropped on Netflix recently. Here's the question:

"I like the criteria of real integration as creating systemic integration and ensuring that public schools that have long served kids of color aren't neglected under integration as they were in Little Rock. How do you square that with the damage charter schools do to public schools and the Teach Us All promotion of school privatization strategies?” Teach Us All is a movie that you all were featured in. It's not focused on privatization but it does have an aspect of that in the movie. I wonder if you could address that?

Hebh: Yeah. So just to reiterate, IntegrateNYC4Me definitely takes the position of advocating fully for public schools. Understanding that if you divest from public schools, that is very bad, unfortunately for Black and Latino students. And we are pro teacher unions and pro our teachers.

We have to understand right now charter schools are not going anywhere unless our public schools physically get better. And I think people don't really understand that a lot of black parents because of their distrust in public schools turned to the charter school system as a last resort. So I do think that there needs to be critical thinking about this idea of how do we tackle school segregation and how do we tackle the charter movement, but not necessarily excluding communities [served by charters], but bringing them together with this idea of inclusion and integration. We all want what's best for our children.

Sarah: It was confronting for us to be in a film parallel with some folks who advocated for the dismantling of teachers unions, or for folks who run conglomerate charter networks. That was a real challenge for us. How can we be in the game with all of these people who are saying this is the solution to segregation? Because the film was looking at Little Rock Nine sixty years later. And the film spoke to people that we don't currently work with. And so what I'm really interested in is how can we really speak to our answer, which is that you create real representation of students and you stand for a real integration of public schools, and you don't deny the debate around charters and the fact that they were largely built to address a public school system that failed to meet the needs of communities of color.

That being said, I also would honor that some of the work the charter schools are doing is not entirely terrible. And I think that it's really important for us to look at, what is the work that's being done that we can really speak to and we can really honor. There are a lot of intentionally integrated charter schools in New York City that I really respect their work. Does that mean that I stand for an overhaul of the public schools? No. But what is it going to look like for us to have civil dialogues about this topic and not to just shut out one another when speaking on this issue.

Race is challenging, and the conversation on race is challenging, but so is the conversation on structural racism. Our intention is to build further our network for IntegrateUs. And since the film we've had over 150 requests to join our youth council or to build IntegrateUs chapters around the country. We're really committed to putting our energy towards that and also engaging in the conversation specifically around charters and specifically around teachers’ unions and think about how we can intentionally include them in our work and honor the work and also honor the boundaries around the work that we respect.

EmbraceRace: Really appreciate and respect that answer, thank you.

50, 60 years ago and more, integration was really about white people, largely white and black, but certainly white and nonwhite. And now we know that Latinx kids are the largest nonwhite group in our public schools. Of course there are many African-Americans as well, Asian-Americans and so on, multi-racial - all of that. So I'm wondering how that change in demographic context - the fact that, technically at least, integration can mean integrating black and brown and Muslim kids, and so on - how does that affect your work?

Hebh: So if I'm hearing your question correctly, how do we decide what diversity and integration is?

EmbraceRace: Yes, that's a way to think about it.

Hebh: So for me I guess understanding diversity and integration is understanding your community. So why is it that New York City has one of those diverse communities in the country, yet ... if you look at some schools in the Bronx, if you look at some schools near Manhattan, there are very diverse communities within that school district. But if you look at admissions policies and if you look at the discrepancy between who's in that community and who's in that school, it's actually drastically different. And this is actually not even talking about specialized high schools - because there are only seven, I'm going to speak about regular public schools here. But for instance, I know of a school that closed down in parts of Manhattan. It was a predominantly black and Latino school and it shut down because it was supposedly failing. But then afterwards they built a new school. Now what was a predominantly Black and Latino school is a screened school and predominantly white and affluent students attend this school. So when we talk about school integration, we always have to keep in mind the communities that we're impacting.

Who is in New York City? If New York City has 30 percent Black students, that should be represented in schools. In fact, because we have such a universal type of admissions policy [in NYC], this is extremely doable. It's just whether or not we want to do it.

Sarah: I want to add something in response to what's large on the chat. IntegrateNYC4Me does not believe that charter schools serve students better than public schools. We make a point at IntegrateNYC not to criticize parents' choices, whatever they are. We make a point to speak about their position within a larger conversation. We stand for the integration of public schools and we also invite students from charter schools to join our conversation about how they can be held responsible for integration as well. And so I just want to make very clear that again were Hebh's speaking from is an agreement we have in the organization to make sure that we speak respectfully of people's choices. We as an organization stand for the integration of traditional public schools and we invite charter students to be a part of our work if they're interested. But again, we do not stand for large charter networks and we also have seen some powerful work done by much smaller community integrated charters. So just to be really clear about that. I really don't want anyone who has a personally triggered around the push out of young people of color or young people with IEPs, ESL students, to feel that we don't recognize that and definitely stand against it and stand for the dignity and respect of young people and their parents.

Matt and Hebh, how do your people - your family, your friends, your mentors, your little brothers - feel about the work that you're doing with IntegrateNYC4Me?

EmbraceRace: Matt and Hebh, how your people - your family, your friends, your mentors, your little brothers - feel about the work that you're doing or maybe a story about one of them.

Matt: My parents love the idea of me doing this work but do not love the idea of me thing outside of the house so a lot! But they really love that I put 100 percent in to this. For example, we were supposed to move last year. I was just starting doing IntegrateNYC4Me, putting a thousand percent research into this work, speaking for my community. My parents wanted to move so badly and I convinced them over two weeks that I wanted to stay in NYC. Two weeks later, my dad said, "I'll stay in New York City only if you do really good in school, 1000 percent effort, and you become a person that is very important and is going to change the world." And I said I promise, I will do everything I can possibly do to make that happen. And so he's waiting until I finish high school.

EmbraceRace: Sounds like your father really saw what it meant for you and the importance of the work. Hebh?

Hebh: So kind of just to give a little bit of context. I've been doing a lot of activism prior to this. I was on the front cover of the New York Times in December of 2015 and a lot of my Islamophobia activism actually led me to even uncover this idea of education and equity. And I was invited to speak at a very diverse and integrated school. And when I went there, the feeling of diversity and inclusion felt abnormal to me and I didn't really understand why. And it was only because I researched and asked questions that I realized it's because NYC has the most segregated schools in the country. So that made me uncover new things.

At the time, my parents did not understand how this could be an issue. You go to school, you come home. What's the issue? It was only because of the amount of support and dedication that Sarah and IntegrateNYC had for me and seeing me do things, like be on a webinar, that they actually turned around and now advocate for integration to their friends. So it was a definite turnaround for the positive.

EmbraceRace: Well we're so honored you guys came to talk to us tonight and so glad for the others in the EmbraceRace community that joined us. It seems from the chat that, obviously, an hour is not a long time! We encourage you to check out Lead us Matt, lead us Hebh, and Sarah also, very inspirational so thank you everybody for coming.


Head to IntegrateNYC4Me and IntegrateUS to learn more. The IntegrateUS network also offers free seasonal webinars, curriculum tools, and newsletters. They offer organizations interested in developing youth sliding scale, multi-generational coaching and help developing youth development structures. ​

Integrated Schools is building a grassroots network of families intentionally and joyfully opting in to integrating schools. They work with parents across the country to share resources and address challenges. Integrated Schools hosts weekly drop-in webchat Happy Hours and monthly Book Club meetings. They also support parents who are interested in starting an Integrated Schools Chapter in their community. Follow Integrated Schools on Facebook and on Twitter.