Members of Islip Town's rebranded unity council, from left, Hassan...

Members of Islip Town's rebranded unity council, from left, Hassan Ahmed, MaryAnn Pfeiffer, Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, Krupa Lauricella and Rabbi Shimon Stillerman, at Town Hall on Monday. Credit: James Carbone

The Islip Town anti-bias task force has reemerged from the pandemic as the unity council, with a renewed focus on tackling prejudice and bias by creating spaces for conversations. 

The council, whose members include faith and nonprofit leaders, community organizers and elected officials, is tasked with creating opportunities to bring the town together to find ways to bridge divides. While the council's mission remains the same as the former task force, the new group will focus on strengthening connections with the adult community to overcome discrimination, said MaryAnn Pfeiffer, the CEO of nonprofit Youth Enrichment Services, who has served on the task force since its inception in 2006 and will continue to work with the rebranded group.

"A lot of adults really lack exposure, I want to say, to certain crises or cultures, or the importance of understanding where the person's coming from," Pfeiffer told Newsday. 

New council member Hassan Ahmed, of Brentwood, said the group is rebranding at a time of heightened divide in the nation, politically and socially. Reaffirming the importance of civil discussions, such as, "I disagree with you but would love to hear your point of view," is paramount to unifying residents, he said, adding he's "hopeful that initiatives like the unity council... [will] give space for people to be able to have discussions with one another."

Ahmed, a Brentwood Union Free School District trustee and the first Pakistani American and Muslim elected in Suffolk County, said he hopes the council can host events that will expose residents to cultures they are unfamiliar with and create opportunities for education and common groundsThe latest census data provides a glimpse at Islip's diversity: More than one-third of the town's population are Hispanic or Latino and more than 20% of residents were born in another country. Languages other than English are spoken in more than one-third of households. 

The task force in the past has grappled with incidents of racism and anti-Semitism, such as the destruction of menorahs outside a Bay Shore synagogue and Islip Town Hall in 2006, hateful messages scrawled on the walls of a Brentwood mosque in 2007 and the distribution of Ku Klux Klan literature in 2008. 

The task force worked with the community to address those issues by hosting speakers such as Holocaust survivors and hate crime victims for Islip students through an anti-bias task force ambassador program. Pfeiffer said the council hopes to reintroduce the program. 

"This is a place that's going to focus on the commonality of people, and how we can live together and do that in a loving, caring and neighborly way," the Rev. Michael Staneck of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Islip, a new member, said. 

Holocaust survivor Edith Gross, at her Oakdale home on April...

Holocaust survivor Edith Gross, at her Oakdale home on April 28, was a speaker at Islip's Town's unity council's inaugural event in May. Gross holds a picture of herself when she was 22 and another photo from when she was 10.  Credit: James Carbone

The new council is introducing a lunchtime speaker series, which Pfeiffer hopes can give working adults an opportunity to attend programs during their meal breaks. For its inaugural event in May, the council hosted Holocaust survivor Edith Gross, 93, who on Holocaust Remembrance Day brought her audience at Islip Town Hall to tears as she described how she survived the horrors of concentration camps and rebuilt her life in America, eventually settling in Oakdale. 

Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter told Newsday she is "very excited" about the rebranding. The unity council, she said "sets the tone from the get-go. It’s all about unity."

With Caroline Curtin

What to know

The Islip Town anti-bias task force, formed in 2006, has rebranded as the unity council to tackle prejudice and bias. The group’s new name hopes to signal its goal to unite town residents and creating spaces for conversations, members said. Members include faith and nonprofit leaders, community organizers and elected officials.

Latest videos