Debra Rokosny has been teaching a genocide course, “Betrayal of Humanity”, at Warren Hills Regional High School for several years. A social studies teacher, she is also the faculty advisor for the high school’s Human Rights Club.
“Many of my students and club members are passionate advocates for human rights and speak out against human rights abuses, including genocide,” says Rokosny.
A little over two years ago she and her students discussed what they could do to bring about greater awareness of the worldwide problem of genocide. They talked about many options. They soon realized that New Jersey did not have a Genocide Awareness Month and so they set about to find out what they could do to make this an “official designated month” in the state. They reached out to Assemblyman John DiMaio who represents the 23rd District, and through DiMaio’s efforts, and bipartisan efforts in the State Senate, the push for Genocide Awareness Month began. It took a while from start to finish for a few reasons, but persistence paid off when Gov. Chris Christie in July signed off on the resolution designating April as Genocide Awareness Month in New Jersey.
“We kept at it,” says DiMaio. “This is a real feel-good story. Mrs. Rokosny and her students deserve a lot of credit. They were persistent. They were determined. It took a while to get it through the process but we got it done and I am so happy for them.”
“It’s astonishing to me,” said Jack Zhang, who graduated from Warren Hills in June. “We took a local idea and made a difference in the state.”
“It’s amazing to see how hard work can pay off,” adds Anna Osadtsis, who also graduated in June. She and other members of the club gave many presentations throughout the year to students at the school about genocide awareness.
The resolution will raise awareness about past and current genocides, remember those who have been affected, and engage in advocacy to prevent future genocides. Several genocides began in April or have a major anniversary in the month. For this reason, many states, organizations and institutions around the world have set aside April to be a month of Genocide awareness and action month.
Rokosny herself was initially inspired by “Moving Beyond Witness,” a Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month national campaign established to inspire community led initiatives to mark April as a month that commemorates genocide past and present.
“It was a long process but we did it,” says Christine Suciu, another 2017 graduate. “We are really happy for Mrs. Rokosny. She worked on it for a long time.”
“We knew she’d get it done!” exclaims graduate Robert Tousignant. “It was important to her, and the club, to make this a reality.”
Photo, left to right, Warren Hills Regional High School Principal Chris Kavcak, Assistant Superintendent For Curriculum and Instruction Dawn Moore, Christine Suciu, Anna Osadtsia, Assemblyman John DiMaio, Human Rights Club Advisor Debra Rokosny, Jack Zhang and Robert Tousignant. Here, DiMaio presents Rokosny with the Gov. Chris Christie signed resolution making April Genocide Awareness Month in New Jersey.