Meghan Markle Called Althea Bernstein After 18-Year-Old Was Set on Fire in Alleged Hate Crime
Meghan Markle advised Althea Bernstein to stay off social media to avoid reading negative comments during their 40-minute phone call
The Duchess of Sussex spoke with Althea Bernstein via phone call for 40 minutes on Saturday after getting in touch through Michael Johnson, the CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County who has been acting as Bernstein's spokesman.
"Her and Meghan talked about the importance of self-care and allowing herself to heal," Johnson told Channel 3000. "And she applauded her for the way that she responded and pretty much said, 'Hey Michael, give me her cell phone number. I want to stay in touch. And let me know when you want me to come back and talk to people in Wisconsin."
Meghan and Bernstein formed a connection over being biracial, and Meghan advised her to stay away from social media to avoid seeing negative comments, according to Johnson.
Johnson said that although Bernstein is "struggling" since Wednesday morning's attack, talking to Meghan "lifted her spirits."
Prince Harry also joined in the call for about 10 minutes, Johnson told the outlet.
Bernstein was driving through downtown Madison on Wednesday when she stopped at a red light. She was sitting at the intersection with her window down when she heard someone yell a racial slur, she told police, CBS News reports.
She told police four white men appeared, with one spraying a liquid on her face and neck and throwing a flaming lighter at her. Bernstein told police she was able to drive away and put out the flames, but when she returned home, her mother encouraged her to go to the hospital, where she was treated for burns. According to hospital staff, the liquid thrown on Bernstein is believed to be lighter fluid.
The following day, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released a statement calling the attack a hate crime.
"The City received a report of a violent racially-motivated hate crime that occurred downtown around 1:00 am on June 24, where a group of pedestrians used a racial slur and then lit a woman on fire through her car window as she stopped at an intersection. This is a horrifying and absolutely unacceptable crime that I will not tolerate in Madison," Rhodes-Conway said.
"While we are still learning more about the details, current information suggests this may have been a premeditated crime targeted toward people of color, which makes the incident even more disturbing."
Meghan, 38, and Prince Harry, 35, have been talking to community leaders about how they can both learn more and contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.
"They are holding calls with community leaders and organizations but are doing that privately as they continue to see how they can play a role. But they also want to learn and talk about it like the rest of us," a source close to the couple previously told PEOPLE.
Earlier this month, Meghan gave an emotional surprise address during the virtual graduation ceremony of her former school, Immaculate Heart High School in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. In her speech, she told the students, “the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.”
Meghan and Harry, who recently relocated to Los Angeles with 1-year-old son Archie, have also distributed meals for the non-profit Project Angel Food and visited Homeboy Industries, a community social justice organization working to improve the lives of formerly incarcerated and previously gang-involved people in L.A.
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The couple is moving forward with their new organization, Archewell, which they have been developing behind the scenes amid the rapidly changing social landscape.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have also been working behind the scenes to support the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign, which calls on CEOs around the world to come together to temporarily pull their advertisements from Facebook, which has been criticized for years for showing all types of political ads, even those that contain lies and misinformation.
“As we've been developing Archewell, one of the areas The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been keen to address is online hate speech, and we've been working with civil rights and racial justice groups on it,” a source tells PEOPLE.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.