Merrick’s “lack of diversity” was apparent to Jennifer Schatzman when she moved to the community from Manhattan’s Union Square three years ago, but it became even more glaring earlier this month, she said, when a group of counter-protesters halted a Black Lives Matter demonstration marching through the neighborhood on Merrick Road.
Schatzman, who is white, but has a biracial son as well as nieces and nephews who are black, took part in the June 2 protest. A fake flier that circulated on social media led some residents to believe the protest wouldn’t be peaceful, and that demonstrators could loot or damage property. So when Schatzman’s group tried to continue past the detractors, police told her the counter-protesters “didn’t have our interests at heart,” she said.
As officers escorted the protesters past the smaller group, they yelled, “Go back to Freeport!” and “All lives matter!” Some gave them the finger. “It made me question why I was living here,” Schatzman said.
The incident also prompted a number of conversations among residents about how to combat racism the community. After Schatzman posted in the Merrick Moms Facebook group emphasizing the peaceful nature of the protest, one commenter suggested she make lawn signs to unify residents against racism.
With the help of a coworker and a printer, Schatzman began distributing signs on June 10; they can be spotted on front lawns or in storefront windows throughout Bellmore-Merrick. Each sign costs $10 and can be shipped anywhere in the country in packs of 10; roughly 30 percent of the proceeds are donated to the NAACP.
Schatzman’s initial order list was 150-names long; now, she has more than 1,300 requests. “When I saw a former colleague post a picture of the sign, which was the first time I had seen it outside of New York, I sat at my computer and cried,” she said.
Khasai Ramsey, a graphic designer, developed the concept for the sign: a white and black hand shaking in solidarity in the shape of a heart, with the saying, “Racism Has No Home Here” circling the image. As a black man with two young sons, Ramsey was happy to help with the cause, he said.
“I’ve had encounters where I was pulled over and the police officer asked, ‘Whose car is this?’ When I told them it was mine, they said, ‘How can you afford it?’” he said. “People are becoming more aware of things happening in black communities, and I think that’s because of . . . white millennials who come from the suburbs to Brooklyn and the Bronx, where there tends to be more people of color. They learn about their struggle.”
Schatzman plans to print Ramsey’s design on T-shirts, too, and hopes to establish an organization dedicated to social justice in the future. “Eventually the lawn signs will go away, so I want to mobilize the group to do other work like voter registration and legal reform,” she said.
Schatzman acknowledged that while the counter-protesters represented a small segment of the community — they numbered about 30 — their presence had a profound impact. The signs, as well as the week’s worth of local Black Lives Matter protests that followed, would not have happened without them.
“What’s happening in this community and others around the world is there’s a new willingness to talk about these issues and do something about them,” Schatzman said, “and that makes me hopeful.”
Ramsey added, “This design represents unity through all kinds of communities, whether black, white or Hispanic — everyone’s jumping on board.”
To purchase a sign, email firstname.lastname@example.org.