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Rochester Urban League leader says recent East Ave. party points to need to address systemic racism

Rochester's skyline from Court Street
James Brown
Rochester's skyline from Court Street

The leader of Rochester’s Urban League is calling on the local community to do more to fight racism, particularly after news about an alleged racist party came to light.

The call to actioncomes from Seanelle Hawkins, president and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester. She put out a statement over the weekend in response to the report of a racist party held in July at the East Avenue mansion of Nicholas and Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia.

That party, according to a ‘notice of claim’ indicating the potential of a lawsuit from a city firefighter, Jerrod Jones, said that he was pushed to attend the event by his supervisor, and found a number of racist tropes, including buckets of fried chicken and other stereotypes at a party that parodied the Juneteenth holiday.

At a news conference held by the Nicosias last week, Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia admitted having a Twitter parody account that included blatantly racist comments and she apologized to the African American community and others,

Hawkins said that it’s not enough for people and organizations just to say that they are not racist. She says they need to take an active stance against racism.

“We have to put anti-racist policies, practices and behaviors in place,” said Hawkins. “So here's an opportunity for that couple and their attendees, and every other leader that is on a board, or those particular boards that they serve on. In fact, I urge every board member to look at their own practices and policies and do their work.”

Hawkins is encouraging the Nicosias, along with all of the people who attended that party and others in the community to participate in the annual Interrupt Racism Summit that takes place in September.

“Every person has to bear the responsibility of changing practices, not normalizing, not saying, ‘Oh, it's just them,’ because those ‘them,’ those individuals are making decisions about our community. And so this is not a one-off. This is a call out to our community to say we must do something,” Hawkins said.

The Interrupt Racism summit, organized by the Urban League for the last three years, talks about ways to dismantle systemic racism in Rochester. It will be held Sept. 19-21 in a hybrid format this year, with some of the programs in-person at the Hyatt hotel downtown, and some events also available virtually.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.