Closing Plenary Offers Hope for Combatting Rise of Hate

September 11, 2017

I remember 9/11 vividly. I was working as an attorney in Washington, D.C., heading into one of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) buildings for an all-day training when I heard that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. Very shortly thereafter, we were ordered to leave the federal building. What happened next was the definition of terror. Like all Americans, I felt shock, disbelief and devastation in every fiber of my being. Cell phones were down, so we didn’t know if public transportation was open or frankly safe, and thus began a mass exodus of people on foot, headed north to get out of the city center. 

But unlike many Americans, I had a unique lens through which I experienced the trauma of that day sixteen years ago. As a civil rights attorney at DOJ, my colleagues and I were quickly inundated by incidents of backlash discrimination that followed the largest terror attack on America's homeland in history, and it was frightening. Discrimination against Arab, South Asian and Muslim Americans (later dubbed the "AMEMSA" community) increased significantly as people's basic civil rights and freedoms were trampled. Our country was reeling from this tragedy, yet some communities were traumatized twice over, experiencing a historic tragedy while also bearing the brunt of harassment and threats of violence based on national origin or religion. 

The wounds of 9/11 inflicted upon these communities are slow to heal, and recent events from Charlottesville to changes to immigration policy have had the effect of reopening the scab. The rise of hate is a major focus of the curated conversations you'll find during #PNW17. Nowhere is it more apparent than in Day Three’s closing plenary, which features three incredible panelists who will discuss the uptick in racism, xenophobia and violence that contributes to a hostile social and political climate for communities of color: Maulik Pancholy, best known for his role on NBC's hit show, 30 Rock, and leading the #ActToChange anti-bullying campaign; Becky L. Monroe, Director of the Stop Hate Project, at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Eric K. Ward, incoming Executive Director at the Portland-based Western States Center.

Building upon the opening plenary with Dr. Gail Christopher, this panel will discuss tangible ways funders can support communities seeking to heal from the effects of racism. Panelists will address demographic anxiety, inequity in our economy and the silos within the social change community that prevent us from addressing the systemic and root causes of injustice. They will discuss ways we can work together, with community leaders, local organizations, philanthropy and law enforcement agencies to combat hate-inspired incidents now gripping the nation and the region.

Maulik Pancholy has juggled a prolific acting career—playing roles such as Jonathan on NBC’s 30 Rock, Sanjay on Showtime’s Weeds, Neal on NBC’s Whitney and voicing animated series such as Phineas & Ferb and Sanjay & Craig—while also serving on President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. During his nearly three-year tenure on the Commission, from 2014-2017, he spearheaded an anti-bullying campaign called #ActToChange designed to meet the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth. His activism around issues affecting the AAPI and LGBT communities has led him to receive several awards including the Asian American Arts Alliance Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award. He regularly delivers keynote addresses to universities and corporations about the changing landscape of diversity in the media, and he is currently writing a fiction book geared towards middle grade readers.

Becky L. Monroe leads the Stop Hate Project at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The project is a part of The Communities Against Hate, an initiative of 11 prominent national organizations working together to address the disturbing spike in hate incidents across the United States. Monroe spent almost eight years in the Obama Administration, most recently in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice as the Director for Policy and Planning for the Civil Rights Division and Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Between the end of 2012 and January 2017, Monroe was responsible for overseeing policy, educational civil rights enforcement and enforcement of the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationalization Act. She led the Division’s community engagement and outreach work and coordinated policies related to immigration and immigrant rights issues and served as a Senior Policy Advisory on the Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity Team (part of the White House Domestic Policy Council), helping develop and implement President Obama’s Administration’s civil rights priorities. Before that, Monroe served as Acting Director of the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, an agency with ten regional offices and four field offices responsible for empowering an unprecedented number of communities to prevent and more effectively respond to violent hate crimes through statute. While there, she worked with law enforcement and local government officials, community leaders, and federal agencies to help address the tension associated with allegations of discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, and helping communities more effectively prevent and respond to violent hate crimes.

Eric K. Ward joined Western States Center last week as Executive Director. The Center works with movements, organizations and leaders to harness regional advocacy to advance racial, gender and economic opportunity and justice in the West. Prior to that, he served as National Field Director of the Building Democracy Initiative of the Center for New Community. He is the organizer of Which Way Forward, a national framework for policy and program decisions about relationships between native-born black people and immigrants. A former staff member with Clergy and Laity Concerned, Eric founded and directed a community project designed to expose and counter hate groups and respond to bigoted violence. He is a former fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and alumnus of the Ford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies. 

The panel will be moderated by Sindhu Knotz, who provides consulting services focused on strategic planning, facilitation, assessment and effective collaboration and leads special initiatives for The Giving Practice. She oversaw the launch of the first Momentum Fellowship and facilitates learning cohorts for leaders advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.