EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The motto e pluribus unum (out of many, one) has been etched on the Great Seal of the United States since 1782. It is both a statement about our nation's diversity of composition and its vision for unity. Last night in East Brunswick, the Founding Fathers and Mothers would have been proud of how this vision played out in one suburban town as the First Annual Unity Walk drew about 200 residents and friends to share a moment of common purpose.
The East Brunswick Human Relations Council designs, develops, and implements programs that celebrate diversity; encourage communication and understanding and addresses the causes, impact, and prevention of bias-related incidents in the township. Said HRC Chair Elayne Risley of the Unity Walk, "The more we learn about our similarities, the more unity we have in our community."
Risley was joined by her colleagues Unity and Community, two giraffes (sort of) who were "not afraid to stick their necks out for each other."
Both the program and the audience represented the diversity in East Brunswick and the ways so many people participate as members of the community. Some young scouts from EB's Troop 132 said, "This is a great event. Our nation is divided so we need to work on our community spirit." Scouts and cubs from Troops/Packs 223 and 132 participated in the event and led the flag ceremony along with veterans from VFW Post #133.
Clergy were represented in the group as well. Reverend Tomas Wong of the Point Community Church (services held at the Raritan Valley YMCA) was "Pleased to see such diversity and happiness." Rabbi Robert Wolkwoff of Congregation B'Nai Tikvah in North Brunswick said, "We need this. We are living in an ugly time. We need to remember e pluribus unum."
East Brunswick's Mayor Brad Cohen noted, "east Brunswick is an extraordinarily diverse community. We must fight racism wherever we see it." He urged the members of the audience not to allow bullying or hate speech on the internet, where "words have no consequences." "Speak up!" urged Cohen. "There is only one America."
Assemblywoman Nancy J. Pinkin (D-18) talked about getting involved in the community as a source of strength. She complimented the Human Relations Committee and the East Brunswick Youth Council for their efforts at volunteerism. She then referenced the Ready to Run program, housed locally at Rutgers University, that supports the entry of women into politics.
EBHS '85 graduate Atiya Aftab, Co-Founder of the the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a group of Jewish and Muslim women who work together toward understanding and social justice. "Unity is not about uniformity. I learn the most when I am out of my comfort zone," she said. "We must stand up for 'the other,' whoever that is at the moment."
East Brunswick Board of Education member Susanna Chiu focused directly on school policies in East Brunswick. "Our district has set the standard in Middlesex County for promoting an environment of respect for diversity. We have set policies and issued consequences to promote respect and understanding, but it's still not enough. The FBI has shown statistics to indicate that that bias and racism is a growing trend. We must insure a safe environment. We need to celebrate freedom."
Following the speeches, children gathered the stones that were painted by the HRC members at the East Brunswick Springfest and placed them near the pond at the municipal center. Participants then followed the flags and marched around the pond, led in song by Kathleen Spadafino, Director of the EB Chorus. Individuals held electric candles that were provided by the HRC and distributed by the Scouts.
E pluribus unum? This Unity Walk seemed like a step in the right direction.