Many people would say Wisconsin is a great state to live in, but great for whom?
In a 2019 study by 24/7 Wall St., a financial news outlet based in Delaware, researchers developed a list of the five worst cities in the nation for people of color to live.
Wisconsin cities took up nearly half the list, coming in at both the number two and number one worst places in the country for non-white quality of life.
In October, the McFarland School District made a landmark move to change this narrative when they applied for, and received, a million-dollar grant for racial equity.
Now, the district is taking another step towards inclusivity. On Nov. 19, McFarland High School (MHS) became the first school in the state of Wisconsin to join We are Many-United Against Hate (WAM-UAH), a non-profit organization working to eradicate hate, bigotry, and racism.
The non-partisan group was started three years ago by Muslim-American businessman Masood Akhtar.
Akhtar formed the organization after discovering a plan by President Trump to institute a Muslim registry in the United States.
“It was the worst day of my life in this country,” Akhtar said. “So I decided to start an anti-hate registry.”
His anti-hate registry soon morphed into the non-profit group that it is today, and Akhtar quickly mobilized the movement. He began to travel around to different schools and spread his message of unity. This, Akhtar said, is when he connected with MHS.
MHS Associate Principal Anne Nichols said the school’s focus in joining the group is to branch out and work together to create a united, actively anti-racist school environment.
“We are hoping to empower our students enough to question and reflect on their own journey,” Nichols said.
Valerie Vayserberg, a freshman at MHS and student ambassador for WAM-UAH, is hopeful that the new partnership will help in her personal quest to de-normalize hate speech.
Earlier in the year, Vayserberg started an anti-hate speech petition, which now has over 550 signatures. She sent the petition to Governor Evers for further action, but has not heard back.
Additionally, fellow WAM-UAH student ambassador Hannah Rounds, a junior at MHS, is stressing the importance of unity in the school’s anti-hate movement.
“This is about bringing people together instead of tearing people apart,” Rounds said.
Akhtar has echoed this sentiment.
“It isn’t about a blue wave or a red wave, it’s a youth wave,” Akhtar explained. “When young people get involved, things happen.”
Vayserberg and Rounds will both be attending Dane County’s Youth Social Justice Forum later in December.
As the first school in the state to join the movement, MHS and WAM-UAH are hopeful that many more districts will soon follow suit.
“Hate is not a political issue, it’s a human issue,” Akhtar reflected. “If people can be taught to hate, we can easily teach them how to love.”