David “Dr. Laz” Lazerson, is best known for his innovative teaching skills, culminating with his induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 2008. Yet, he came to speak at the University of Colorado at Boulder regarding his race relations work with youth.
After the Crown Heights, N.Y., race riots in 1991 Lazerson was chosen to work with the African-American and Caribbean-American leadership in Crown Heights, to break down stereotypes and barriers between racial communities.
Lazerson’s work after the riots was portrayed in a 2004 television movie, Crown Heights, staring Howie Mandel. This film was screened in Hellems Arts and Sciences Sunday evening, followed by a Q-and-A with Lazerson. He was also in Boulder all weekend, to talk with students about his involvement in race relations.
Unsure of what to do after the riots, Lazerson’s main goal was to create an open dialogue between the black and white communities in Crown Heights. Lazerson, along with other community leaders, created Project CURE, focusing on dialogues between the youth to increase education about the different cultures, a mixed ethnicity basketball games and a multi-cultural band.
Project CURE gained widespread support and recognition. The racially mixed basketball team was invited, several times, to play at the Madison Square Garden during the New York Knicks halftime.
“Out of the negative, you get opportunities,” said Lazerson, on why he invested so much time and effort on race relations after the riots.
The most important thing Lazerson wanted to teach the youth he was working with is that there is “no such thing as rich schools in Crown Heights.” No matter the color of one’s skin, or their beliefs and customs, the people of Crown Heights face many similar struggles.
Ari Morris, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, said he thought that Lazerson’s work was not only creative and innovative, but also provided a phenomenal affect on the racial tensions in Crown Heights.
During the Q-and-A, Lazerson told many of the real life stories that were used in the film. Although some drama was added to the actual events, the film did portray the outcome of Lazerson’s work well.
“It was interesting to hear some of his commentary on what changed from the actual story and who was happy with what,” said Ian Solow-Niederman, a 20-year-old communication and religious studies student.
Lazerson proved to be a captivating speaker. At one point he started rapping a song from the Project Cure band and was immediately provided back up beatboxing by an audience member.
When asked about the situation of racial tension in Crown Heights today, Lazerson said that the situation is a lot better, but the efforts are still ongoing.
The different communities need to “put in time and effort to publicly work together,” said Lazerson, working together behind closed doors is not enough.
Lazerson, now more focused on special needs education and writing, using the valuable and innovative skills learned from educating youth across racal lines. He still spends some of his time working with race relations and Project CURE band reunions.
Lazerson said he believes that children are the ones who change the community. It is important that they understand and accept other people from different cultures and backgrounds.
Lazerson said that any relations can be improved in any community, by increased education and awareness of differences, is to just “say ‘hello’ to your neighbors.”