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New Jersey High School Students Win Fight To Require Asian-American History In Curriculum

LIVINGSTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Through personal stories, several New Jersey high school students are fighting for a more inclusive curriculum in classrooms.

A tragedy led to a chance to teach others about Asian-American history.

As CBS2's Cindy Hsu reports, the group of high school students wasted no time during COVID. When six Asian women were killed in Atlanta last year, it hit them hard.

"I just felt really devastated that such a tragedy could still occur in our modern times," student Russell Fan said.

The shootings prompted Russell to start the Livingston AAPI Youth Alliance. The group partnered with Make Us Visible New Jersey. Together with politicians and 60 other organizations, they fought to get Asian-American history taught in New Jersey schools.

"They talked to their school boards. They talked to their teachers. They corralled their students. They created these video testimonies. They came and testified at the state house," said Dr. Kani Ilangovan, with Make Us Visible New Jersey.

The video testimonies were heart-wrenching.

"In July of this year, a young Asian-American high school student from my hometown of Livingston committed suicide ... The lack of acceptance of his culture and identity led to depression in which he felt he couldn't belong to any group of people at all due to repeated instances of bullying," Russell said in his testimony.

Hannah Kim talked about wanting to take her life after racial attacks from a classmate in middle school.

"I know what it's like to be the one thrown to the ground. I know what it's like to be yelled at due to your race and just seeing this happen throughout the entire country really threatened me," Hannah said.

They spoke about the huge surge in Asian hate crimes and how teaching Asian-American history in schools would help foster understanding.

"Integration of the accomplishments of Asian Americans here into the schools and a common knowledge of people can diminish the uncertainties surrounding us and help Asian Americans become viewed as part of the community and not as outsiders," student Hannah Mattam said in her video testimony.

All the work paid off, and a law was passed in January to require AAPI history to be taught in New Jersey schools.

New Jersey is just the second state to mandate Asian-American history in public schools. The first was Illinois, which passed legislation last year.

"When you really, really care about something, when you advocate it and when you're passionate about it, everyone benefits," Hannah said.

The students say the next step is to make sure each school district in New Jersey implements Asian-American history into their curriculum.

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