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The First 100 Days: MCS Alumni at Forefront of Fight for Immigrants and Refugees

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dear MCS Community,

This weekend, protests erupted online and in cities across the country in response to the discriminatory executive order signed on Friday barring refugees from entering the United States and suspending immigration from seven countries. As director of civic engagement and research at Make the Road New York, Manhattan Country School alumnus Daniel Altschuler ’96 was at the forefront of organizing protests in New York City— including the one at John F. Kennedy International Airport—against the order and in support of refugees and immigrants’ rights.

On Saturday, another MCS graduate, Lee Gelernt ’75, deputy director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argued for an emergency stay in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. Just before 9 p.m., Judge Ann M. Donnelly issued a favorable ruling, granting a temporary halt to the implementation of the executive order and requiring the release of the names of detained refugees to ACLU attorneys.

Video: Remarks from Lee Gelernt '75, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project,
and ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.

These actions in response to the executive order are stellar examples of the meaningful work MCS graduates are doing to make the world a better place. From pre-K to eighth grade, students at MCS experience an environment with no racial majority and broad socioeconomic diversity, where they learn to value people from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of experiences. In addition, daily lessons from our curriculum, which is steeped in social justice and activism, reinforce the importance of equity and compassion and speaking out to create a society that reflects these values.

Daniel says of his time at MCS: “Whether studying the Civil Rights Movement in the sixth grade, celebrating South Africa’s first democratic elections in Central Park, or marching every year to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday and call attention to present-day injustices, MCS taught me from an early age that we are all capable of shaping history.” Daniel and Lee are indeed shaping history, but they aren’t the only ones in the MCS community focused on issues facing immigrants and refugees. Our current students are taking action as well. Last year, through a "Build Bridges, Not Borders" activism campaign focused on Syrian refugees and Islamophobia, our seventh- and eighth-graders worked to educate themselves and their peers about the issue, traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with elected officials and created media messages against Muslim bias and in favor of welcoming refugees. The banner from that campaign, which reads “Refugees Welcome Here,” hangs in our building today to illustrate our community’s ongoing support of refugees and immigrants.

Refugees Welcome Here

On Sunday, Make the Road New York held a demonstration at Battery Park, against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. Local politicians joined an estimated 20,000 people to reflect on the inscription on the statue’s base: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free....” I am proud and comforted to know that MCS students, both past and present, are among those fighting to ensure that this invitation endures.