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Recently, the Queens Stands Together Rally, co-organized by class of 2005 alum Ethan Felder, was held at MacDonald Park in Forest Hills, Queens. The rally was held as a means of support for freedom and equality for all, and to demonstrate the strength of diversity. The rally included over 100 people, and was attended by Townsend Harris High School students, faculty members, and alumni.
Held on February 26, the rally included speeches made Ethan, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and THHS senior and Muslim Student Association co-president Sangida Akter.
During his speech, Ethan repeated, “love, not hate, makes America great.” Regarding the rally, Ethan commented, “This rally is only the beginning though; we all feel good, and we’ve all gathered today in this park, but it all starts with the briefest of conversations. I call on all of you to talk with your neighbors, whom you may or may not know, [and to] start a conversation. Coming here today is the first step. We are all gathered today, and we are proud of that, but this is not the last step. The times that we live in demand active citizenship. This rally, above all else, is a citizen’s call to action.”
Another highlight of the rally was when Sangida delivered her speech. She spoke of an experience she shared with her mother, in which a stranger spit at her mother and yelled, “take that f—— [hijab] off’” and how that experience impacted her to this day. Regarding the rally, Sangida commented, “It was surreal when Ethan came to me three weeks ago and said that he saw [our] protest and he wanted to do something about it. In this crowd today… I am happy to represent my school and I think this is a dream come true, to speak here in front of all these people.”
Senior William Mun, who attended the rally, stated that Sangida’s speech was his favorite part of the rally. He said, “The most memorable part was seeing Sangida deliver her phenomenal speech! She was so eloquent with her words and spoke for the voiceless so well. I was so impressed and proud of her.”
Sophomore Asiya Koli agreed, saying, “The most memorable moment was definitely when I heard Sangida speaking, not only because I’m close to her but because her speech was really powerful.”
Some teachers were also found attending the demonstration as means of supporting the students and the community as a whole.
Social studies teacher and United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader Franco Scardino stated, “Beyond just being here to support [Ethan], I really believe what this demonstration is about. I am a part of this organization called Q Resists and although they are not a part of organizing this event, we are all on the same page, that we can’t be silent. To be silent is to be complicit. And now more than ever, it is really important to speak up,when our fellow citizens are under assault and when immigrants are under assault. I, myself, am an immigrant, so it’s a very personal issue for me.”
Foreign language teacher Beatriz Ezquerra told us, “I am here because like so many other people in Queens, I am an immigrant; I am a woman; I am Latina and it’s a question of loyalty to myself to be here. I am here for my students: I am here for my black, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Latino, white and everyone… That’s that the reason I’m here. I am very proud of the school I am serving and I will come to these rallies as much as it is necessary”.
As an alumni of THHS, Ethan shared a few words for the Townsend Harris community: “Live the Ephebic Oath; it’s important especially in this moment, be actively engaged in politics and civics… This is an extraordinary moment in our history that we are living through, and the times call for regular citizens and THHS students to step up and be part of this defense of our values that we cherish and can’t take for granted.”
As a means of encouragement to continue the fight, Ethan ended his speech with a quotation from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “the only title in our democracy superior to that of president is the title of citizen”.