As his speech began, Akbar Hossain paused to take a selfie from behind the lectern at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
With a crowd that big behind him, he explained, who could resist a picture?
In the audience Thursday were nearly 500 students from 65 area high schools, all gathered in Philadelphia for the 11th annual Youth Conference hosted by the Anti-Defamation League. The conference aims to combat hate through a day of workshops and tough conversations.
And that crowd that looked big to Hossain, the keynote speaker, also looked big to organizers. Participation was up 30 percent from the year before.
“A lot of schools are experiencing hate incidents, bias incidents that they didn’t have before or weren’t as aware of before,” said Lisa Friedland, one of the event organizers. “So I think the attraction to having a workshop where kids can come together to challenge these things is a lot more prominent this year.”
This fall, the Philadelphia area has been plagued by an outbreak of racially charged incidents at schools. There’s been racist graffiti in Bucks County, racial slurs hurled in Montgomery County, racist social media posts in Chester County, and a racially charged fight in South Jersey.