State Sen. Anthony Williams didn’t pull any punches on Sept. 23 when discussing bigotry in the United States: He’s embarrassed by what he sees.
“We are quickly becoming the non-envy of the world,” he said.
Williams was one of several dignitaries speaking at a “Stand Against Bigotry” press conference hosted by Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation at the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial, and he was clearly the most blunt.
“We are at the crossroads of another civil war in this country,” he said. “My 7-year-old grandson was born to a place I don’t recognize.”
Williams recognized the efforts underway to fight racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry — efforts he said don’t go nearly far enough.
“The fact that we have friends of different ethnic backgrounds will not win the fight,” he said. “We have to get off the sidelines and get into the streets.”
Williams referred to the anti-Semitic social media posts that drew headlines this summer by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson and former Philadelphia NAACP President Rodney Muhammad, saying the former was more troubling — Jackson is a young man with a platform to influence others — because it’s a sign that educational efforts are failing.
“If he was properly educated, he never would have posted that,” Williams said.
That theme cropped up a couple times during the 35-minute event.
“Our No. 1 enemy is ignorance,” said Bishop J. Louis Felton, senior pastor at Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ. “Ignorance is a deep resistance to knowledge.”
“The younger generations are not connected to their history,” said Eszter Kutas, executive director of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation. “History does not have to repeat itself.”
And there are ample opportunities to teach, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.
“This is a moment in time when we can reach into our teaching … and realize each of us has an obligation to do our part,” he said.
Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia Regional Director Shira Goodman noted that hate is something that is learned, not something that’s innate.
“The good news is that it can be unlearned,” she said.
City Councilman and real estate developer Allan Domb spent a couple of minutes detailing his background, describing his family’s immigration from Poland and a childhood incident of anti-Semitism in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where a landlord evicted his family and two other Jewish families after his mother complained about having no hot water.
David Adelman, who chairs the Holocaust Remembrance Foundation and is the co-chair of the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said a concerning trend is the number of people who acknowledge there’s a problem with hatred yet do nothing about it.
“The most harmful words are ‘not my problem,’” he said.