SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Following an incident of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti being spray-painted onto the back wall of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (SPFHS), student leaders organized a rally to condemn hateful acts and encourage the understanding and embracing of diversity.
Among the audience, which filled about one-third of the high school auditorium, were Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith and Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, SPFK12 Superintendent Dr. Margaret Hayes, students, teachers, Scotch Plains Police Chief Ted Conley, Fanwood Police Chief Richard Trigo and a representative from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. However, turnout from students and parents was less than expected, especially given the amount of social media engagement related to the graffiti and its impact on the local community.
SPFHS Principal David Heisey welcomed the crowd and was followed by speakers that included student council president Michael Dieu; Arthur Worrell, president of the Black Student Union; Melanie Robbins, deputy director of the NY/NJ Anti-Defamation League; Wayne Mallette, supervisor of fine/performing arts for the SPFK12 district; Matthew Levine, student and member of Teen Action Service Corps (TASC); Melinda Poku, VP of the Black Student Union; Rabbi Joel Abraham of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Ministerium; Janea Pope, co-advisor of the Black Student Union; and Leland McGee, president of Social Justice Matters.
When I first heard about the vandalism, I didn’t know what to say or think. To see those words and images on my school’s wall horrified and disgusted me. While people frantically wanted to know who did it or if they were caught, I wanted to know why? Was it some juvenile delinquent's idea of a sick prank? Or did those words truly reflect their beliefs? -- Michael Dieu
This is not normal and this is not going to be what defines your community. -- Melanie Robbins
What does this moment require of us? I believe one thing this moment requires is a real engagement on the issues of racism and bigotry. This engagement will require many to be uncomfortable and that is something that we as humans tend to shy away from. -- Wayne Mallette
We must speak up forcefully. Maybe it’s to call out homophobia, racism, and intolerance. Perhaps it is not turning a blind eye when someone uses a racial slur in the cafeteria. One night will not cure the racial ills, but it’s a good start. -- Wayne Mallette
The cure is tolerance. -- Arthur Worrell
Every word that was written, regardless of whether we would like to dismiss them as just words void of negative emotional impact, must be recognized as weapons that cause a regression to the maturity of our societal growth. -- Jenea Pope
Once found the culprit(s) should be instructed to provide an open apology not only to this student body but to this community as a whole. They have misrepresented the reputation of this school, this community and have created a hostile environment for our most precious gifts -- our children. -- Jenea Pope
(Our) peers are polluting the air with word they have no business using. -- Melinda Poku
Being part of a minority, it is horrific to see (hateful graffiti) on the news. When it happens in your back yard, it hits you hard. - Matthew Levine
They hurt my community and this place where we educate caring citizens. I am speaking from my own faith and my own heart: I will not stand idly by while my neighbor bleeds. -- Rabbi Joel Abraham
Dieu concluded the event.
"As students, we have taken the initiative to organize this event because we love the Scotch Plains-Fanwood community, and want to do everything we can to keep improving it. The response across the community from local organizations and student clubs who wanted to contribute showed me that we are, in fact, united."