November Conference will Examine Ways to Stop the Spread of Hate

By October 25, 2019 No Comments


This photo shows a young Shannon Foley Martinez painting graffiti supporting White Supremacy. She has since become an educator dedicated to fighting bigotry and hate.

By Justin Vellucci
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer

The photo’s resolution dates it a bit, but its message remains crystal clear.

In the image, Shannon Foley Martinez, then a teenager with a partially shaved head, paints a Nazi swastika on the graffiti-covered surface of a tennis court. Martinez, now an educator, embraced white supremacy after she was raped at age 15 and turned to a world increasingly consumed with a violent ideology. She found her way out; many do not.

“After something like the New Zealand shooting happens, or the Pittsburgh murders, we look for who can we blame? Is it social media? Is it mainstream media? Is it the leaders of the country? The answer is yes, it’s all of those,” Martinez, who creates curriculum to combat bigotry and hate, told a reporter earlier this year. 

“But that doesn’t address the underlying question, the one I think we ought to be asking, which is why are so many people finding resonance with this hate-based ideology? If you look at the core drivers of being radicalized — a sense of belonging, a sense of empowerment, a sense of community — the question we should be asking is are we treating the symptoms? Make sure that we are treating the symptoms in order to get to the root of the sickness.”

Martinez is among many experts set to speak in Pittsburgh Nov. 10-11 at a conference – titled “Antisemitism, Bigotry and Social Responsibility” – that falls one year after the attack on a Squirrel Hill synagogue during Shabbat services. The conference, which takes place at Rodef Shalom, also is timed with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogram in Nazi Germany, and with Veterans Day – two dates that take deeper looks at issues of mortality.

Classrooms Without Borders, a nonprofit arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, was working on the conference before the Oct. 27, 2018 shooting. That incident, however, only strengthened the group’s resolve to make its dream of hosting the conference a reality.

“In the aftermath of the shooting, we were inundated with requests for education materials, people at speak at schools, everything,” says Melissa Haviv, the organization’s assistant director. 

“We thought the one-year commemoration should be an opportunity to reflect not only on a better year but on a mission that provides a better future for all of us,” she added. “As we move further away from the shooting, we don’t want teachers and others to forget. We also work to work with them to combat discrimination every day.”

The speakers at the upcoming conference are as numerous as they are esteemed. Among those set to present are Dr. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the U.S. Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; Dr. Peter Hayes, a respected Northwestern University professor who authored “Why? Explaining The Holocaust;” Dr. Rachel Kranson, a religious studies professor from the University of Pittsburgh; and more.

The event is geared toward educators, spiritual leaders and students but is open to the community, as well. Registration links and further information are available online.

“All of these speakers are proud to equip educators with tools to take back to their students so they all can have a respect for diversity,” Haviv said. “People of all ages in the Jewish community are looking at ways to commemorate Oct. 27. CWB is doing it in CWB fashion, which is education. It’s what we do.”

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