The New York State Commission for Social Justice (CSJ) is the anti-defamation branch of the NYS Grand Lodge, Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA). The CSJ is an Italian American group designed to specifically to engage in the work of combating defamation of Italian Americans and other groups. Its two primary goals are:
The CSJ’s parent group, OSIA, is the oldest and largest Italian fraternal organization of men and women in the United States and Canada.
The CSJ was launched on Columbus Day, October 12, 1980, during the NYS OSIA Presidency of Peter R. Zuzolo. It succeeded the “Committee Against Bias, Bigotry and Prejudice,” which had been in existence since 1960 and had been chaired by P. Vincent Landi, Judge Angelo Roncallo and Joseph Giordano.
The newly formed CSJ had, as its first President, Matthew Nizza of Franklin Square. He was succeeded in 1985 by Joseph Parillo of Schenectady, in 1989 by Vincent S. Romano of Bellmore, in 1993 by John Dabbene of Staten Island, in 1999 by Sylvia Summa of Brooklyn, in 2001 by Santina Haemmerle of North Massapequa, in 2005 by Stella Grillo of Brooklyn, by Enrico J. Annichiarico of Smithtown in 2011, and by Louis J. Gallo, Jr. of Miller Place in 2013.
The CSJ has worked on various projects and with numerous organizations to ensure a positive image of Italian Americans and other ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds. The following are some of the accomplishments of the CSJ:
The CSJ is a member of the New
York State Regents Advisory Board which includes groups
such as B’nai B’rith and the United Federation of
Teachers. This important educational group advised the
Regents on important decisions regarding educational matters in New York State.
The CSJ aggressively promotes the study of the Italian language, history and culture. Procedures for expanding the study and teaching of Italian have been developed. A specific guideline regarding techniques to use to have Italian taught and maintained in neighborhood schools has been published and distributed by the CSJ, for use by the public. The CSJ also supports with positive image materials Italian Clubs on college campuses, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools.
Training programs for presidents of lodges, community groups and CSJ liaisons have been launched throughout the State of New York. Through the Presidents’ Symposium and the CSJ Workshop held at Convention yearly, members are taught the techniques and procedures necessary in order to activate programs of action in their communities, which help fight defamation and discrimination against Italian Americans.
The CSJ was instrumental in reestablishing the College Board Examination in Italian. This achievement test in Italian, which was used by students as their foreign language requirement for entrance into college, was discontinued in 1973. The cancellation resulted in a decline in the study of Italian. Students were forced to study a language other than Italian in order to fulfill the language requirement for the college of their choice. The NY CSJ began a campaign to have the College Board reinstate the test.
Negotiations took many years. At various times, CSJ was supported by several other groups including the National Order Sons of Italy in America’s Educational Committee.
In 1988, the College Board agreed to reestablish the examination. The examination was finally reintroduced in June 1990.
The NYS CSJ fought for the rights of three Italian American assistant professors at Lehman College. They had been denied full professorships despite having received the required approval by three separate faculty committees of their college. The three were denied professorships by the president of the college. During his administration, very few Americans of Italian descent received promotions. The CSJ was able to convince the president of Lehman that his decision was discriminatory and that the three assistant professors should be promoted. After further negotiations, they were elevated to the position of full professor.
NYS CSJ’s media monitoring program entitled, MEDIA (Media Evaluation, Decision, Intelligence, Action) has been active and successful. It has monitored newspaper articles as well as TV and radio broadcasts. When discriminatory remarks directed at Italian Americans have been made, they have been addressed. Written apologies have often been received or rebuttals printed or broadcast. Among our successes are listed The New York Times, Channel 23, Crain’s N.Y. Business (a highly respected business magazine), A & E Cable, and the Turner Broadcasting Company. Media Monitoring pamphlets have been distributed which aid and advise viewers in deciding how, where, and when to complain to the media on instances of negative sterotyping and defamation in the media. The pamphlets are geared so that individual districts in New York State may have local media information to assist them in their efforts to monitor the media.