Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado joined 100 middle and high schoolers in the Capital Region on Friday to share messages of peace and unity ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Delgado said educating youth and others who may not be exposed to people different from them is critical in combatting hatred and related violence as hate, antisemitism and deep divisiveness have become more prominent over the last decade.

“Listen to that song inside you — we all have that song," Delgado told students during his remarks. "That’s what connects us. That’s what binds us. Believe in your power, believe in the love inside each and every one of you.”

The students wrote poetry, stories and songs about fighting inequality as part of the Students Together Opposing Prejudice conference. The event, featuring students from 11 upstate school districts, took place at Siena College in Latham ahead of Monday's holiday and focused on the music that inspired civil rights. 

Delgado remarked about the need for more love in the world, and reflected on the six years he spent as a broke hip hop artist in Los Angeles. 

"I rapped about the things that I cared about. I rapped about climate change. I rapped about racial inequities. I rapped about misogyny. I rapped about the fact that our politics is corrupt," he said.

Delgado serves as the head of the Hate and Bias Prevention Unit in the state Human Rights Division that Gov. Hochul announced last month. The new statewide campaign is focused on improving public education and outreach to help detect and prevent this kind of bias in communities.

Students at the conference, led by Anti-Defamation League’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute, explored freedom songs that inspired resistance, discussion and anti-hate activities centered on civil rights.

Delgado said students embraced each other's words with love and empathy.

Scott Richman, ADL's regional director for New York and New Jersey, says King's message is more critical than ever with all forms of hate on the rise.

"The purpose of reaching out to young people is to create that kind of society where people respect one other, where they celebrate difference and celebrate diversity rather than looking down on it," he said.

Hate crimes have been nationally on the rise over the last few years. The state had 773 reported hate crimes in 2021 — a 95% increase from 2020 with 488 reported hate crimes, according to latest data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The most frequently reported bias motivations for hate crimes against property in New York in 2021 were 58% anti-Jewish and 20.2% anti-Black, consistent with prior years, according to DCJS.​

Morgan Castelli, a 16-year-old junior at Mohonasen High School, reflected on how she witnessed her friends of different races, genders and sexual orientations face different hardships while growing up.

"As I got older, I realized what they went through as a kid was not OK," she said. "What they said and how they acted was their way of living. I have my own way of living. Everyone else has their own way of living, but they were getting judged based on the way they were living."

She encouraged her peers to continue talking about how hate affects people differently, and things that make them uncomfortable more often than Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

King is a personal hero of Delgado's from childhood. The lieutenant governor said the famed minister and civil rights leader continues to inspire him to promote peace while shining a light on communities often underlooked, undervalued and unseen.

"It's really about celebrating not only love but his commitment in his power — the power of his belief," Delgado said. "I think when we truly step back and reflect — truly reflect on the power of love and what it can do and how it lives in all of us, I think we'll all be better for it."