BUFFALO, N.Y. — The youth hockey incident has once again brought race relations to the forefront of conversations. Friday, 2 On Your Side visited a group in Western New York that has spent decades trying to encourage people to openly talk about their biases.
Since 1951, the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York has worked with young people, and for the last 25 years, Lana Benatovich has led the NFJC.
"To overcome bias, bigotry, and racism and to build relationships throughout the community through different cultures, races, religions, and people of different philosophical, political beliefs," says Benatovich. "We bring schools together. Youth of all ages, middle school, and high school, who don't have the opportunity to talk together and to really understand their commonality and to build respect and communication."
Through youth conferences, the NFJC encourages kids to have serious conversations about these serious topics.
"To also, very much also, to bring it home to their parents because role modeling is so important and very often the youth will lead us as adults," added Benatovich.
They just had a conference called "Words Matter." Students from twelve school districts learned that if you see something, say something, whether it's in person or on social media.
"We want them looking at each other like I'm looking at you. And to be able to make statements of caring and of comfort and of love," Benatovich says.
Benatovich adds that everyone should be empowered to have the confidence to speak out against racism.
"It's a matter of going in a lunchroom and seeing that children of different backgrounds and interests sit together sometimes, change it up. Have an opportunity to be with people who don't have the same socioeconomic or cultural background than yourselves because we're all in this world together," she says.
The NFJC runs youth conferences year-round. You can contact the group if you'd like to host a program at your school.