One would think that a Barnes & Noble store would be the last place someone would be encouraged to close a book, yet that is exactly what Barnes & Noble Booksellers, along with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Scholastic Books, wants children to do.
Conceived by the three participants, Close the Book on Hate is the name of a month-long campaign to prevent hate crimes from occurring by eradicating the ignorance that inspires them. At the heart of this tolerance initiative is a new book, "Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice," a manual designed to help adults teach children how to cope with and address racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
Last week, the sponsors behind "Hate Hurts" officially launched the program with a reception at the Barnes & Noble on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
"We're leaving this camp site a little cleaner than we left it," said co-author Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann, who wrote the guide with Caryl Stern-LaRosa.
"Children hear anti-gay epithets up to 25 times a day," said Lynette Sperber of Parents, Friends and Fami-lies of Lesbians and Gays, who reflected on her personal experi-ences raising a gay son to illustrate how hard it can be to counter societal stereotypes. "My son had to go through 23 years by himself, and he comes from a comforting, supportive home."
According to the campaign's proponents, more than 850 hate crimes were reported last year. Among the people working with ADL to pass more stringent anti-hate legislation is Alan Stepakoff, whose son was injured in last year's North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting.
Stepakoff told The Journal that while his son has physically recovered, he still experiences post-traumatic stress. Trying to rationalize and explain the senseless crime to his child has been difficult.
"It's something we really have not been able to do," said Stepakoff, who believes that children must be taught that "hate isn't the way to deal with differences and problems."
At the press conference, Stepakoff provided an analogy to convey the power that a book can have on a young person's mind. He spoke of a book he read as a child that explained how all people, regardless of race, possessed similar blood.
"It may have been a crude way of stating its message," said Stepakoff, "but it's something I've remembered for 40 years. We're all the same on the inside."
Grant Elementary School teacher Susan Friedman thought it was important to bring her fourth graders down for the kickoff, where each student received a free copy of the book.
"The book's strategies will help teachers as well as parents," says Friedman. "I haven't dealt with anything directly, but I remind them daily to be respectful."
Peter Willner, associate national director of the ADL, told The Journal that the concept for "Hate Hurts" came out of a breakfast meeting with ADL leader Abraham Foxman and Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio, held in the wake of the Columbine High School tragedy. They wanted to find a way of working together on a project that counter the alarming rise of hate crimes.
Beyond "Hate Hurts," a pamphlet on "101 Ways to Com-bat Prejudice" will be given out with every book purchased at participating Barnes & Noble outlet through-out September as part of the Close the Book on Hate cam-paign.
Willner said that a syllabus of relevant reading - such as "Anne Frank Remembered" and "Bajo la Luna de Limon" ("Under the Lemon Moon") - will also be distributed.
The ADL's Western Region Director David Lehrer says he's pleased that the campaign is off to a good start and promises that the ADL and Barnes & Noble will continue to find ways of uniting on the tolerance promotion front in the coming months.
Debra Williams, director of corporate communi-cations for Barnes & Noble, reports that "Hate Hurts" will be carried in 550 of the franchise's stores.
"Children are the future," says Williams, "and it is our hope to end racism by teaching them tolerance."For more information on "Hate Hurts" and the Close the Book on Hurt campaign, call the Anti-Defamation League at (310) 446-8000. "Hate Hurts" is available for sale at Barnes & Noble stores and on its Web site, www.bn.com, as well as other retail and online bookstores.