Faith and Human Rights Groups Launch Unity Collaborative in Hampton Bays

Panelists at the South Fork Grassroots Town Hall for Unity.
Panelists at the South Fork Grassroots Town Hall for Unity.

About 100 people gathered into the Southampton Town Senior Center in Hampton Bays Sunday afternoon for a grassroots town hall meeting to share their concerns about the human impact of the direction the country is heading.

The event, titled “South Fork Grassroots Town Hall for Unity,” was organized by South Fork Unity Collaborative, the local initiative of the Long Island Unity Collaborative, a coalition of faith and human rights groups, including many representatives from the Unitarian Universalist faith.

Reverend Kimberly Quinn Johnson of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork kicked off the meeting by discussing how the Unity Collaborative’s mission dovetails with Unitarian Universalist values of the dignity and worth of every human being.

She urged participants to sign on to a pledge to “support community members who are in pain and fear for their safety, dignity and well-being” “in the face of heightened racial and social tensions as a result of the 2016 election season.”

Throughout the room, attendees shared their concerns about immigrant rights, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, racial profiling, women’s rights, transgender rights, breaking down barriers of segregation, the safety of kids in school and the general need to protect vulnerable people in the community.

Concerns about access to health care and affordable housing were also raised.

Lisa Votino-Tarrant, who compiled the concerns of attendees on a series of boards at the front of the room, said “we have our work cut out for us,” after taking a step back and looking at all the concerns raised.

She added that many of the issues overlap, and people who are taking a stand on one issue may find their cause is related to other issues.

“Don’t pigeonhole yourself,” she told the group. “These issues affect peoples’ lives on a daily basis.”

A panel of community leaders also shared overlapping concerns.

Fizzah Idrees-Iqubal, a physician assistant in Westhampton Beach who does outreach for the Islamic Center of Long Island, said earlier generations of Muslim Americans didn’t interact with mainstream American society as much as her generation does, and she feels a duty to get out in the community and explain who she is as a Muslim American.

“Forty-eight percent of Americans haven’t met a Muslim person,” she said.

But, she said, she was unable to schedule a talk at the Hampton Bays Library because she was told the subject matter was too controversial. In Westhampton Beach, she said, she had no trouble scheduling a talk. 

Rabbi Michael Rascoe of Riverhead’s Temple Israel said that, as the only full-time rabbi on the East End, he receives a lot of phone calls from people concerned about the rise in anti-Semitic behavior over the past few months.

“At this point, I do a lot of listening,” he said. “But in general, Jews worry about just about everything you’re talking about.”

James Banks of the Southampton Anti-Bias Task Force, who serves as the Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs at Suffolk County Community College, said he is concerned about health care and the disparity in access to higher education for low-income and minority students on Long Island.

Lauren La Magna of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, said she is concerned that people who receive health care services, including but not limited to abortion, will be targeted by protesters when visiting Planned Parenthood clinics.

Juli Grey-Owens shared staggering statistics for the poverty and hopelessness felt by many transgender people, 29 percent of whom live in poverty, and 41 percent of whom have attempted suicide at some point in their life.

Christine Epifania of Alternatives Counseling said young people who use their services in Southampton have been under severe stress since the beginning of the Great Recession.

“It started in 2007, and it’s only gotten worse,” she said. “We don’t have the trained people to work on these issues with them, and we have a great need.”

She added that her office is also having trouble filling positions for bilingual social workers, client navigators and drug use prevention specialists.

Minerva Perez of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island said one of her greatest concerns is that undocumented victims and witnesses of crimes may not feel safe contacting the police due to the increase in immigration enforcement.

Irma Solis of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union said the NYCLU is working to ensure that “constitutional rights apply to all persons living in the U.S. regardless of their immigration status.”

She pointed out that First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, and both the Fourth and Fifth Amendment, which protect against unlawful search and seizure and the right to remain silent, respecitvely, apply to everyone in the United States, regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens.

She added that all people are allowed to film police activity, and to write down the names and badge numbers of police officers.

“The police don’t have the authority to ask you to hand over your phone,” she said. “If they do, contact us.”

The Unity Collaborative is planning to host a similar town hall meeting on Sunday, March 26, at St. John the Evangelist School in Riverhead from 3 to 5 p.m.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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