We are proud to announce that our first virtual Q&A session at Integration Charter Schools was a success!
On Wednesday, June 3rd, Charles Fall, member of the New York State Assembly, joined in a video call with nearly 300 ICS high school students and teachers to discuss important current events in both our state and country. Our moderators, Erin and Shayla, asked Fall questions on behalf of the student body, encouraging an open-dialogue between our elected officials and the youth of Staten Island.
Fall introduced himself as the first Muslim and African-American Assemblymember from Staten Island, representing 130,000 residents of our borough’s North Shore. Raised in the community himself, Fall spoke of his mission to fight for improvement in an area that many of our students belong to. “We’ve had a past where people talk, talk, talk, but they don’t necessarily feel or see the impact of the work our government is doing,” he says. “One of the biggest directives I have for my staff is constituent services but also making sure that the public feels the work we are doing.” Despite their young age, the assemblyman’s message throughout the event inspirited our students to use their voices to safely speak out against injustice by petitioning, protesting, and using their social media platforms to educate themselves and others.
Below are a few questions and answers from our event:
Q: How does it feel knowing that you are a role-model to black children in Staten Island?
Fall: It’s a big honor. The message I want to send to young folks is that anything is possible if you work hard, stay consistent, and put your mind to it. When I was about to win my election, I was 29 years old and a lot of people said I must “wait my turn” and “now is not my time.” I respectfully disagreed by saying, “I hear you out, but the way the cards are aligning, I think this is my time.”
My hope is to encourage folks who are not involved civically to become engaged. The work we do has a significant impact on what our government looks like and also how our community looks… If the community and our elective leaders speak up, there is change that can happen.
Q: What is your advice for young students about using our voices, especially at a time like this?
Fall: It’s a very difficult time right now in our country. One of the things I think that President Obama did a pretty good job at highlighting is that our young folks are great at amplifying how they feel on social media about what’s right and wrong. Considering using a social media platform is incredibly important but also we can go further than that. If you take your actions from social media to going to protests or organizing protests, that’s something that goes a long way.
When we say protests, we want to be careful because, over the past few days, we have had people with a different agenda, such as looting businesses, that do not represent what the protestors are doing. It’s the same as the idea that a few bad cops that do wrong are not a reflection of the entire police department. It’s important to keep that in mind.
Q: How do you feel about NYC reopening? What do you think schools will look like in September?
There is no guarantee that schools will reopen in September. Being honest, I think it will take a long time before we can get to a safe place where things can open responsibly. We were also a little late to this game. When it was breaking out in China and Europe months ago, our borders should have been a little more secure and we should have taken proper precautions. Politics aside, there was a lot we learned from that as a government.
The whole idea of why things are the way they are is so that we don’t have a second wave of the virus spreading. Right now, we are doing pretty well and there has been significant progress. Much of that is because we have each been doing our part by social distancing and wearing masks in public.
I know emotions can get flared and people can become frustrated. We have every right to be frustrated with what’s going on now but you don’t know what your underlying conditions may be. Don’t learn the hard way.
Q: Do you agree that one of the leading causes of what’s going on in America with the riots, Black Lives Matter supporters and opposition is due to a fault in the education system failing to educate students about the in-depth, complicated history of African Americans and white Americans?
That’s a very good question. It could be the case. It could also go back to our curriculum. We only have 180 days and we could only do so much within that time period with what you can learn in school and what is being done at home. Because the school system can only do so much, maybe as elected officials we need to start sharing some historical information for people to dig in on their own. Always be mindful of the information you’re viewing because you don’t want to cite a source that’s not accurate.
If we don’t address what has happened in the past, it will only happen again. If we don’t acknowledge it, white supremacists will come back worse than before. We must continue to educate and share information that could be helpful in teaching others.
Q: What are some ways that our student voices can help people to show and understand that black lives matter?
Fall: We have to remember that we have a role to play when it comes to how you use social media. I encourage that you use it in a responsible manner so that the message is not being lost. When the Black Lives Matter began, it intended to highlight all of the issues that the black community is going through but some people had a different agenda that said that all cops are bad, which wasn’t reflective of the movement. It was meant to hold people doing bad things accountable. Using social media, being clear in your message and doing it in an organized fashion. Carrying out what you do online to the streets in a way that’s constructive goes a long way.
We also have to remember to be consistent. It isn’t about sending one message and walking away. As a lawmaker, there are still bills that I’ve introduced last year that I’m still working on.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built overnight. We also have to be patient. Change will come when you’re patient and consistent. I know change will come. I’m very optimistic of it and I will do everything in my power to bring about change. We live in a society where we want everything now, now, now. It’s important to stay patient while keeping the pressure on at the same time.
Q: What advice do you have for our students who are feeling angry, betrayed, or confused with what is going on in the world right now?
Fall: As a member of the NYS Legislative Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Caucus, we have a pretty aggressive agenda we will be releasing that will bring about transparency by holding folks accountable and making sure the state budget represents the needs of our communities. It’s one thing to support the protests but the state’s budget is always reflective of what the government’s priorities are.
What happened with Mr. Floyd was completely unacceptable and should never have happened but it also speaks to the decades of racism that we’ve had in this country. There has been progress but there’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve been making strides in the right direction but it starts with dialogue, being consistent and having a plan. I encourage you to constantly ask your political leaders about what is being done to address those issues.
I represent a district where we have a ton of advocates that live here. I hear the concerns that people have. I’ve heard the negative and positive interactions people have with officers. I hear of officers who live minutes away from the precinct but must drive around in circles to make sure nobody is following them home…As lawmakers, if one of my colleagues has done something corrupt, it makes us all look corrupt. We then must introduce legislation to bring about transparency so the public can trust us again. It’s so hard to earn that trust as it is so when someone does something of that magnitude, it sets us back. What that officer did set other officers back so many years.
We’re heading in the right direction. I encourage you to not be afraid and know that we are in this together. We have our brothers and sisters from so many different communities, regardless of race, coming out to support people who look like us. Keep in mind that you’re not in this alone and we are in this together as a community. And when we are together as a community, a lot of good things happen.
Fall concluded the session by extending his contact information to our students interested in pursuing internships in policy and law.
Our students, teachers, and staff members are grateful for the opportunity to learn from Assemblyman Fall and thank him for taking the time to speak with us.