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Charlotte students take a stance against intolerance

Friday, Mar. 16, 2012

‘I Don’t Say That’ program growing quickly

By Marissa Brooks

Judith Cohen has a bracelet that sparks conversation. It’s a one-inch black bracelet that has "I Don’t Say That" in white writing.

When people see her bracelet, Cohen often hears, "Oh, you don’t say what?" With her response, Cohen, 17, teaches people about paying attention to the words they use every day.

"I Don’t Say That," or IDST, is a program created by Cohen and Jason Blanco, 17, to eliminate the offensive use of words like "gay," "retard," and the "n-word." The word "gay" should not be used as a synonym for stupid, said Cohen in the YouTube video she created to explain IDST.

"Acceptance is a passion for me," said Cohen. "It is a strong family value that we should be accepting of all people."

Cohen, a Charlotte Country Day senior, was inspired after hearing Marc Elliot, a guest speaker on tolerance, at her school.

Cohen began to pay attention to people misusing words.

"A lot of people don’t realize how often they use offensive language," said Cohen.

She thought if she could make people aware of how much they are using inappropriate language and how offensive those words are to many people, then perhaps they would stop using them.

Blanco, now a senior at Providence High School, Cohen, and Ellen Goldstein, Eastern Regional Director BBYO, worked together to further develop the IDST program.

BBYO is the Jewish Community Organization and Jewish Youth Leadership Network.

Cohen is the organization’s International Ambassador to Switzerland and the North Carolina VP of Programming. Blanco is the North Carolina VP of membership.

Cohen, Blanco, and Goldstein presented the IDST program in April 2011 at the N.C. Spring Council Convention in Greensboro, NC.

It was well received.

"(IDST) is just what the world needs right now," said Oz Fishman, International Teen President BBYO. "In a tumultuous time for young people discovering who they are, knowing that there are people around that are willing to create space for them to be who they are is one of the most noble causes anyone can take on."

IDST fits right into BBYO’s mission of respect and inclusion.

"We’ve committed to take a stand against any bullying and harassment that happens within our own communities and to advocate for the end of it everywhere," said Fishman. "We’ve signed anti-bullying pledges, held rallies for inclusion, and are now rallying our professional staff to commit to being adult resources to anyone that’s being made to feel uncomfortable by their peers at school."

Feedback from the IDST programs has been positive.

"We just really appreciate the IDST program, which you created, it has made a big impact in our lives," wrote Emily Tatyana Epstein, a BBYO participant. "We don’t use those words anymore and we question other people when they use them!"

Jessie Sachs, 28, Ohavim Advisor/Chai Chaverim Life Member, Eastern Region BBYO, has shown Cohen’s video to family, friends and coworkers.

"Everyone has told me how they have started to think about the words they used," said Sachs. "One of my friends showed the video to their kids. The message got through to them because the next day at school, one of the kids said, ‘We don’t say that,’ when he heard someone say something they shouldn’t."

Through BBYO and word-of-mouth, Cohen’s message is quickly spreading through the Carolinas, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, South Jersey, Canada, and to other countries.

Cohen and Blanco presented an IDST program at the BBYO International Convention 2012 in February where it had the potential to reach 800 more people from over 10 countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Israel, Argentina, and Bulgaria.

"You can make IDST apply to any words that you don’t want to say," said Cohen. "It would be cool to see the video go viral."

Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at mbrookspt@earthlink.net.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/03/16/3103358/charlotte-students-take-a-stance.html#storylink=cpy

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