Over 600 students and teachers from 42 schools in the Westchester County NY and Fairfield County CT area attended the annual Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center (HHREC) Human Rights Institute for High School Leaders virtual event on March 18th. This year’s event featured intimate talks and testimonials by Holocaust Survivor Judith Altmann and former White Supremacist Derek Black. This event was established through partnerships between the HHREC and area schools as an educational platform to promote further awareness of human rights issues and provide instruction for students on how to empower them to take action in their schools and communities.
The HHREC Student Institute included workshops led by experienced student facilitators to encourage frank discussions. Participating schools were encouraged to help their students to engage in an activist response to human rights causes. This year’s honorees included:
- The Richard A. Berman Leadership Award for Human Rights was presented to Peyton DiSiena, Somers High School. This award is in honor of the longstanding commitment and dedication of Richard Berman to the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center, and his commitment to community service and the education of ethically and socially responsible leaders for the global community.
- The Andy Cahn Community Service Award was presented to Ananya Sistla, Ardsley High School, in memory of the contributions and commitment made by Andy Cahn, former Assistant Director of Education for the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center, who was instrumental in the creation of the High School Human Rights Institute.
- The Neil Ginsberg Upstander Award was presented to Komal Samrow, Blind Brook High School. This award recognizes the contributions and commitment made by Neil Ginsberg to the Human Rights Institute for High School Student Leaders, and his dedication to support the HHREC Educators Program Committee for over 20 years.
The event commenced with a welcome by Julie Scallero, Co-Director of the HHREC, and their Executive Director Millie Jasper, and was followed by Keynote speaker Derek Black, who shared his story of his public renunciation of white nationalism and chronicled his personal journey away from his family’s beliefs. Derek Black is the son of Don Black, the founder of the Stormfront online community and godson of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. His talk focused on human rights abuses and injustices, and the importance of youthful leadership in confronting prejudice and discrimination.
The program culminated with a one-hour presentation and Q&A with Holocaust Survivor Judith Altmann, a member of the HHREC Speakers Bureau. Altman spoke about her story of survival,
as she recounted the horrors of the Holocaust from her time at the Auschwitz concentration camp, surviving a “death march” that ended in a concentration camp, and her indomitable will to live, as she eventually became a proud citizen of the United States.
“We are very pleased at the response we received from area teachers and students who joined us online for our program this year” said Julie Scallero, HHREC Co-Director of Education. She added “It was so inspiring to see the students sharing their comments and questions for our keynote speaker on how to renounce racism, and to see their reactions as they heard the firsthand testimonial from Judith Altmann as she shared her spellbinding stories of survival. We truly believe their powerful messages will resonate strongly with students today who are increasingly aware of white nationalism and help guide them to become more active about human rights issues today.” The HHREC Student Institute was developed to further their mission by promoting student awareness of human rights issues on both local and global levels, and to empower students to be upstanders by creating and implementing Action Plans in their schools and communities. HHREC has organized and offered this event to Westchester County area students and teachers since 2002. Past events have been hosted in partnership with Iona College in New Rochelle.