Walking into Downtown’s Long Beach Coffee and Tea shop to be greeted by smiling faces, encouraging words and a puppy, was exactly what Shani Crooks needed Sunday morning, the days leading up to it having been, in her words, “traumatizing.”
Over the previous few days, during several public events organized by Crooks and four other Cal State Long Beach colleagues, racial slurs had been repeatedly lobbed at her, she witnessed colleagues being sexually harassed and was horrified when a Black History Month event was “Zoom bombed” by a naked man masturbating on camera.
That was just Wednesday and Thursday.
What had Crooks and her colleagues done to inspire such toxicity?
They’d organized a series of events designed to encourage civility.
The last of those events was Sunday, a pay-it-forward occasion at LB Coffee and Tea as well as Confidential Coffee that encouraged patrons to not only buy a cup of coffee for a stranger but perhaps engage them in a conversation—a civil conversation—even if they may have differing opinions. They were also encouraged to sign an online pledge to act more humanely.
“It’s about small acts of kindness,” said Samantha Troisi, who along with Crooks and three other journalism/public relations students, make up the CSULB-based group, CivilityLB. “Civility is not a common word we use, so I’m just telling people it’s about being kinder, nicer, more respectful.”
That is all CivilityLB had been organized to do and it’s confusing to its members why anyone would have a problem with that? Actually, the civility campaign was part of a months-long program by CivilityLB as they competed in the Bateman Competition, the Public Relations Student Society of America’s premier national case study competition for public relations students.
The group went out of its way not to give any opinion on any issue, but given the reaction online, one would assume they had laid out some hardline agenda, ideology or imposed harsh rules of engagement. Quite the opposite. CivilityLB encouraged differences and strong opinions, the whole point of the exercise was for people with differing opinions to engage in civil, respectful argument.
“If you wanted to come with the MAGA hat, that was the point, we wanted you to come with the MAGA hat,” Crooks said. “We wanted you to say I’m a Trump supporter or Black Lives Matter, we just don’t want people to get spit on.”
In an earlier Long Beach Post article previewing the event, Crooks had said that “I should be able to debate with you and disagree with you and not be in fear for my life,” and likened Wednesday’s event to speed dating in that participants were paired for a few minutes to discuss whatever they wanted and then were paired with a different participant.
She said the first sign of trouble came when a man identified himself using a coded racial…