Upstanders: How Tamara Friedman and Kira Ayla Are Standing Up Against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry

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Upstanders: How Tamara Friedman and Kira Ayla of ‘It’s OVER. End Discrimination NOW.’ Are Standing Up Against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry, and Hate

If you witness someone being bullied, abused, and/or discriminated against or if someone is close enough to you to tell you what happened, let that person know you are there to help in any way they need.
Kira Ayla: I had a friend who was there for me when I had just endured the trauma of discrimination. In tears, when I told her what happened, she told me she would help me in any way I would need. She did everything possible to help me get through that awful trauma.

An upstander is the opposite of a bystander. A bystander is someone who stands by while others are being bullied, maligned, or mistreated. An upstander is someone who stands up to protect and advocate for the victim. We are sadly seeing a surge of hate, both online and in the real world. Many vulnerable minorities feel threatened and under attack. What measures are individuals, communities, and organizations taking to stand up against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry, and Hate? In this interview series, we are talking to activists, community leaders, and individuals who are Upstanders against hate to share what they are doing and to inspire others to do the same. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tamara Friedman and Kira Ayla, Co-Founders of It’s OVER. End Discrimination NOW.

It’s OVER. End Discrimination NOW. is a powerful movement co-founded by Tamara Friedman and Kira Ayla. This mother-daughter duo is committed to fostering an inclusive and respectful world where everyone can flourish, regardless of background. It’s OVER. endeavors to end discrimination and inequality, recognizing them as abuse that strips individuals of their power and self-identity.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Kira Ayla: Since I was a young child, I was always deeply disturbed by injustice and favoritism, as I hated seeing and witnessing innocent people being treated cruelly, unfairly, and unequally simply because of who they were and /or who they loved. I was always a fearless, happy child who loved being around people, loved family gatherings, parties, holidays, etc. However, since a young age, I was in close environments where discrimination was unfortunately tolerated and rampant. I always knew and believed that it was wrong in every way, and so one day, when I gained the courage to speak out, I immediately was made to look like I did not know what I was talking about and was screamed at. Literally, being screamed at shattered my self-esteem, and so I had to attend school emotionally broken, which would make me a target for bullies. Discrimination in my school environment was also rampant, as I would often hear students saying derogatory names/words in class, making discriminatory jokes, acting out the stereotypes of minority groups, etc., pretty much every day. Yet, no one was speaking out or saying anything. I’m sure there were peers who felt the same way as I did, but they, too, were afraid to say anything. I felt powerless over the circumstances in my life, including enduring discrimination myself, and as a form of therapy, I began playing the violin. Music was always a part of my life, as I had played the piano for about five years before picking up the violin, which would become my safe space during those difficult times/days. The violin took me far, as a top teacher was grooming me to attend Juilliard. Unfortunately, the traumas in my life physically and emotionally caught up with me, whereby my dream of attending the Juilliard School of Music could no longer be a reality. Even though I was down and broken, I was not out, and it only made my dream of speaking out that much stronger. I always believed and knew that somehow, someway, one day, I was going to be a voice for the voiceless. Also, as I was growing up, my mother was my number one supporter and was the person I would always talk to when things in my life were going wrong. On my best days, she was there to celebrate, and on my worst days, she was always there to help me out. Another aspect of what caused me to want to speak out against discrimination and inequality was that I constantly had to witness my mother being discriminated against and treated unequally as a woman in my close environment. She is an amazing cook and singer, and her dreams of fulfilling that were consistently shot down by those people. She also endured sexual harassment in her life, and sadly, I witnessed the effects it had on her and her dreams. She, like me, was not taken seriously as a woman and was made to feel often empty and unequal. After losing my Juilliard dream and my mother losing her dreams, my mother found the strength to remove those people from our lives. And about three months after those people were gone, my mother wanted to be a voice for the voiceless as well as me. Throughout her life, she has always found discrimination to be a perplexing phenomenon. We then came together and created a movement called It’s OVER. End Discrimination NOW.

Can you share a personal story of how you experienced or encountered antisemitism, racism, bigotry, or hate? How did that experience shape your perception and actions moving forward?

Unfortunately, we were both called the worst derogatory names in recent years on several occasions. This wounded us greatly and broke our spirits.

Kira Ayla: I remember one time when I was practicing my violin, I heard someone in my close environment calling me one of the worst derogatory names in the background. My violin, which was at the time a safe space for me, no longer felt safe. I once enjoyed many hours of practice with the most amazing dreams in mind for my future, including speaking out against discrimination and inequality. I also have synesthesia, which greatly influenced my playing in a sublime way, as the characteristics of the tones and sounds were far more enhanced in such bright colors. This created in me a deeper sensitivity and passion, which gave me even more enjoyment and fulfillment as I played. But soon, these traumas took a toll on both my physical and mental health, and it got to a point where practicing my instrument was no longer safe, and the once bright, vibrant colors I saw in the music quickly began to fade. I still feel the heartache of being called those names. It not only shattered my confidence, but it made me feel dehumanized and ashamed of who I was. I felt humiliated, powerless, and alone. What made me angry was the fact that it seemed as if those people who called my mother and me those dehumanizing names got away with it.

Both: We quickly learned that we were not alone and that this was rampant in the world. We were very disheartened as others’ dreams, such as ours, were also being hindered, disrupted, threatened, blocked, and crushed by these unjust practices. This was one of the catalysts that caused us to be passionate and steadfast about standing up for what was and is to us completely wrong and unjust.

Can you describe how you or your organization is helping to stand up against hate? What inspired you to take up this cause?

The first step in our process of standing up against hate is to have awareness. We know that the word “awareness” might be an overused term. However, when we say awareness, we are talking about a bombardment of awareness in the same way we are being bombarded with the awareness of discrimination and inequality. A bombardment of awareness for anti-discrimination would perhaps cancel out the bombardment of awareness for discrimination. It takes one person or a group of people to start a movement, but it’s the masses of people who share the same beliefs and end goal in mind that can truly make a movement prosper and come to life.

What inspired us to take up this cause were the discriminatory circumstances and events that both of us had experienced and witnessed throughout our lives. We know what it feels like to have dreams inhibited and stolen. We also know what it is like to feel destroyed mentally, emotionally, and physically due to the painful effects these injustices can cause. Dreams, goals, and visions are every person’s right to aspire to with encouragement and support in environments that are supposed to be safe places for them to grow and flourish. Power used to unjustly hurt someone, confuse someone, threaten someone, disparage someone, etc., can be detrimental to both one’s physical and mental health. It can also cause severe effects on a person, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. These devastating consequences must be addressed in our society.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your work as an Upstander?

When we began to share with others our desire to make this social justice/human rights movement, we encountered incredible support. We believe the most interesting story(s) so far was how many people were eager to openly share their stories and personal experiences with us, especially regarding the circumstances in which these topics are not always so easy to discuss. Also, experiencing discrimination and inequality is a very lonely experience, but in those moments, we no longer felt so alone.

Could you share an inspiring story that demonstrates the impact your efforts have had on an individual or community?

When we told people about our movement, they would often respond to us with immediate acknowledgment and support. They seemed very encouraged and told us they were proud something is being done to make the world a safer, kinder place for them and for future generations. Also, the gratitude every person expressed to us for creating such a needed forum in our society today made us, in turn, feel very encouraged and supported in our desire to be a beacon of hope. This ignited even more passion in us.

In your opinion, why do you think there has been such a surge of antisemitism, racism, bigotry, & hate recently?

The first reason we believe there has been such a surge of antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate is partially due to all the discriminatory laws that have been passed in our country, especially in recent years. Another reason we believe there has been such a surge is due to social media. Messages of positivity and hope can spread and trend throughout social media, but negative messages, such as hate, can also spread and trend on those platforms as well.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Firstly, we believe that politicians need to address and acknowledge that human rights are constantly being violated on a daily basis. Most of the time, these violations are happening behind closed doors. Politicians also need to acknowledge and understand that many people have been/are wounded mentally and/or physically as a result of these injustices happening in our country and around the world. The families and friends of those who have endured these unjust practices can also be affected by what happened as well. Politicians need to address these issues far more than what they are currently doing, as it is not nearly enough. Discrimination, inequality, and racism, at its finest, claim the lives of innocent people. Secondly, we believe that politicians need to support the passage of laws and policies that are going to restore our human rights. Politicians need to be steadfast and determined to solve these issues before they get worse. Thirdly, we as a society need to start being there for one another and helping one another, not being against one another. This is also one of the steps we can take as a society/community to begin uniting our nation again.

What are your “5 Things Everyone Can Do To Be An Upstander”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1. If you are witnessing someone being bullied and/or discriminated against in any way, speak up for them.

Kira Ayla: When I was at my locker at school gathering books for my next class, a bully shouted out an awful name to me. One of my peers witnessed this and spoke up for me. I’ll never forget her kindness.

2. Similar to no. 1, if you see that someone is being bullied on social media, you can be the commenter who speaks out on their behalf. We have seen many commenters speak up for people receiving hate comments on various social media platforms.

3. Create a hashtag or phrase on social media that allows people, including yourself, to speak out against these injustices and/or, if you feel comfortable, tell your story about your personal experience(s) with these injustices as well.

4. If you witness someone being bullied, abused, and/or discriminated against or if someone is close enough to you to tell you what happened, let that person know you are there to help in any way they need.
Kira Ayla: I had a friend who was there for me when I had just endured the trauma of discrimination. In tears, when I told her what happened, she told me she would help me in any way I would need. She did everything possible to help me get through that awful trauma.

5. If you are witnessing someone being a target of abuse and/or hate on social media by another account, be the one to report that account.

How do you handle the emotional toll that comes with being an Upstander?

It can be extremely difficult when there are a lot of people in the world and sometimes well-known figures who are seemingly against what you are fighting for. It is also very sad and unfortunate to look at your phone or device and read about all the hate crimes being committed and discriminatory laws being passed, especially in a country like ours. During those tough times, you have to stay strong and keep fighting, even if you feel like you are doing it all alone. When you know in your heart you are doing the right thing, you keep moving forward no matter what obstacles come your way. Also, doing things that make you feel happy, relaxed, and confident can help with the emotional toll as well.

If you were in charge of the major social media companies, what would you do to address the hate on the platforms? Could you share specific strategies or policies that you believe would be effective in addressing hate on social media platforms?

We believe that every person is entitled to have their own opinion and should be able to have the freedom to express them. However, when opinions turn into hate, and a person or a group of people are being targeted because of who they are and who they love, that’s when something needs to be done. No one should ever feel threatened due to hate and potentially have their lives tarnished as a result. Therefore, if we were in charge of major social media companies, the first thing we would do is create our own rules in which any kind of hate, bigoted, or threatening remarks towards anyone would not be tolerated. Social media should be a safe place for people to be able to be their authentic selves and not be a place where they have to endure any kind of trauma or abuse because of it. We also believe that we would need to perfect technology to track any kind of speech that is hateful, threatening, and/or abusive. Perhaps bots and/or AI could be of great help regarding this aspect. Abusive and/or hateful accounts that have been successfully tracked should be immediately suspended and, in the worst cases, should be permanently banned from the platforms.

How would you answer someone who says: “Hate speech is permitted under the US constitution. Why are you so worried about permitted, and legal speech?”

Kira Ayla: Just because hate speech is permitted under the US Constitution doesn’t mean it is right to say. Words hurt. People do not always understand the effects those kinds of words, terms, and names may have on someone’s psyche. When a person is called and/or referred to as a derogatory term(s), it is one of the most dehumanizing things ever to have to endure. Speaking from my own experiences of being called some of those names, it made me feel worthless, embarrassed, and as though I was nothing other than those very names I was called. I am still hurt to this day from being called those names, but it is also one of the reasons why I co-created a movement. These names can also make a person feel as though they should not exist in the world. I felt that way. The potential psychological and emotional harm these words and terms can cause someone could potentially mar their mental and physical health, dreams, and, worst of all, their lives.

Are you optimistic that we can solve this problem in the United States? Can you please explain what you mean?

Yes, we are optimistic we can solve this problem in the United States. There are many people in this country who are very much against discrimination, racism, and inequality. For example, when George Floyd’s life was unjustly taken, people from all over the country took to the streets to protest in the middle of a pandemic for racial justice. This is just one example showing that many people do care and want these problems solved in the US and beyond. It begins with taking the right steps that are going to bring us in the direction of achieving greater equality in our society.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an Upstander but doesn’t know where to start?

There is no one who is ever too big or too small to make a change in this world. It only takes one person to make a change and create a ripple effect. If you are on social media, you can start by making a post or video on any of the platforms where you can speak out against these injustices. Another way you can start is by developing a hashtag or a thread on social media that creates a safe space for people to be able to speak out. You can also be the person who speaks up when you witness someone being treated unfairly in some way. Those very things can change lives in ways you never could have possibly imagined. It takes courage to speak out for what is right, and sometimes you may have to do it alone, but in the end, it will be worth it.

In what ways can education be leveraged to combat antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate?

Education is a highly important aspect in combating issues such as antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate. Firstly, we believe students deserve to be taught the truth regarding the harsh realities people have faced/still face today as a result of these injustices. We believe it is important for students to be given honest curriculums regarding these topics in order to help them understand why these antiquated practices are wrong. Otherwise, students can become ignorant due to the lack of knowledge, and therefore, they may not take the issues of discrimination, inequality, racism, bigotry, and hate seriously. Discrimination at its finest leads to tragic historical events such as the Holocaust. An example of racism at its finest was slavery in the US. Unfortunately, there are countless examples of tragedies the injustices of antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate have all caused throughout history and also continue to cause in our present day today. Therefore, education can be leveraged in which students are armed with the necessary and truthful knowledge in order to help combat these injustices in our society. Having the proper knowledge can also cause students to have compassion towards those who have suffered and are still suffering as a result of these unjust practices. It can also inspire them to stand up for those who are continually being wronged in our society.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” -Maya Angelou

Your intuition never lies; when something is not feeling right, it is because it is most likely not right. If you are seeing red flags from someone or something, do not overlook them. This can save you months, years, and potentially decades of heartache and grief. Many times throughout our lives, we overlooked red flags from people in various relationships, and because of that, those people ended up revealing their true colors. And when they did, it hurt. We can never say we were blindsided, as we knew deep down all along, but we still chose not to believe those people the first time. Even the smallest, tiniest red flags are still red flags, and it is highly important to keep note of them, even if you don’t want to believe them. It is also important to always pay attention to how you feel around someone. If you don’t feel good around a person for the most part, that’s a red flag in and of itself.

Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Barack Obama. He is an inspiration as well as very hardworking and authentic, and he supports equality for all.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very meaningful. Thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your important work!

Upstanders: How Tamara Friedman and Kira Ayla Are Standing Up Against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.