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In the face of racist incidents and rising rates of hate crime, she knew she couldn't stand by

Posted: 7:15 PM, Apr 19, 2018
Updated: 2018-04-19 19:26:37-04

CINCINNATI -- A pair of racist incidents in southern Ohio basketball -- Kings students donning jerseys with anti-black racial slurs in January and Elder's student cheering section using similar slurs to taunt a rival team -- prompted an avalanche of public castigation and an equally frantic deluge of apologies from the schools earlier this year. 

They also convinced Jackie Congedo, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, that she needed to partner with others to effect real change in Greater Cincinnati.

"I am equally offended when I see something that targets our friends in the African-American community as I am when I see things that happen in the Jewish community because I realize when one of us is threatened, really we're all threatened as minorities," she said. "I have a gut reaction when I see these sorts of hateful things happening."

Congedo said the Jewish Community Relations Council had talked with other city groups about joining forces before -- when an interracial couple's house was vandalized with a swastika , for instance, and when a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, claimed the life of an anti-racist activist -- but the news of the two basketball incidents prompted them to finally take the leap. 

The Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate, which comprises the JCRC and 18 other civil rights-oriented organizations, will debut its message of understanding, compassion and education at the YWCA's Stand Against Racism event at Fountain Square April 27. 

Tony Rue, the parent who first posted pictures of Kings Mills' racist jerseys, said his reaction to seeing them was shock -- which only intensified when he began receiving death threats and hateful online messages for publicizing them. 

"If we don't talk about it, nothing would have happened," he said. "I mean, four games in this incident, and no one said anything. I made a post laying down with the wife one night, and it went worldwide."

Despite some hostile responses to his efforts, Rue said he believes working to pinpoint and correct instances of prejudice "can only help." 

According to statistics compiled by the FBI, Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, hate crimes and incidents of prejudice against marginalized groups have risen sharply since 2016. Congedo is hopeful this trend can be reversed through compassionate education.

"I think we actually do stand a chance to make a big difference in the area because people aren't born hating," she said. "They're taught to hate, and we can teach otherwise."