For three minutes — three long minutes — the steady buzz of Lincoln Road on a Sunday afternoon quieted a bit.
At precisely 3:30 p.m., almost 100 local students stood still, in various poses from phone-to-ear to holding hands to kneeling, in the grassy area of Lincoln Road near Meridian Avenue, part of the Anti-Defamation League’s first-ever No Place For Hate flash freeze, a national social movement to stop unchallenged hate, prejudice and bullying.
The participants, all wearing black and yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words “No Place for Hate,” froze among the sea of unsuspecting shoppers, diners and tourists to show support of the ADL’s initiative. With an audience wowed by the sudden event, at the end of the three minutes they handed out cards to passersby detailing their message of tolerance and peace.
The concept: turn a typical South Florida Sunday into a teaching moment.
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“I actually got the idea of the flash freeze from a video on YouTube. I was trying to find a way to take that and combine it with something with meaning,” said Alex Arcay, 17, a junior at Miami Killian Senior High School in West Kendall, who organized the student event. “We wanted to send out the message to stop hate and bullying and bigots.”
The flash freeze is designed to raise awareness about bullying, cyber-bullying and the consequences of hatred and prejudice. It is part of the ADL’s national No Place For Hate campaign, which works to empower schools to promote tolerance and respect for individual and group differences.
With the support of the Miami-Dade School Board, about 50 high schools and middle schools in the county have received training and participated in anti-bullying workshops. Students from 10 of the schools took part in Sunday’s event.
Part of the initiative focuses on prevention and early intervention.
“The idea is to educate students on name-calling, one of the first steps of bullying,” said Lilly Medina, the ADL’s education project director for Florida. “We are trying to build empathy so we can change the culture.”
Arcay, who lives in Kendall, first saw the flash freeze video — held at Grand Central Station in New York — in January. He was inspired by its power and decided to bring the synchronized event to the No Place For Hate campaign.
“We wanted to be able to surprise the public but get across a serious message,” he said.
The students gathered at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, where they viewed an 80-second public service video made in celebration of the ADL’s centennial. The video envisions a hate-free world by showing what could have been the contributions of people had they not been killed by acts of racism, genocide and homophobia.
The video, with images including Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank, Yitzhak Rabin and others, has drawn more than one million views since it launched in March.
The students and several adults then walked to the grassy area, mingling among the crowd until the designated time.
Then, suddenly, everything stopped, everyone hushed.
One girl pointed toward the sky. A couple of girls high-fived. Another set of girls sat cross-legged in a circle. A few boys held phones to their ears. Another boy stared at the ground. The display was simple and powerful, and it worked: A crowd gathered around them for the three minutes, some taking photos, some pointing. Most also stopped moving.
One of the students, Zac Hamburger, 17, knows something about bullying.
“I know what it feels like to be a victim of hate. I have been called names and been teased about being Jewish and also about my weight. You try to ignore it, but it’s hard,” said Hamburger, 17, a junior at Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach. “I wanted to participate to take a stand against all the hate and fear in the world.”