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Community for Unity Rally in Somerville Hopes to Inspire Tolerance


SOMERVILLE, NJ – Jews and Muslims, Christians and Buddhists, Republicans and Democrats, men, women, whites, blacks, and people of multiple ethnicities will join together Monday night, Aug. 28 at the historic Somerset County Courthouse to decry hatred, prejudice and bigotry and deliver a message of tolerance and respect for one another on the anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Mayor Brian Gallagher and Steve Peter, Borough Council president; Rev. Paul Janssen of the United Reformed Church, 100 W. Main St., along with a dozen or more lawmakers, clergy and activists, will speak at the rally.

Organizers of the "Community for Unity Rally: A Call To Action" invite people to begin gathering on the courthouse lawn, 20 E. Main St., at 5:30 p.m. A 5-minute excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech will be shown at 5:55 p.m., with speakers scheduled to deliver their remarks at 6 p.m.

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“I’ll talk about the amazing diversity that we have here in New Jersey; it’s what makes us such a strong state,” said state Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16th. “There’s been so much divisiveness and hostility. It is beholden on us as Americans to rise above the hatred and take care of our neighbors – that’s what we do in New Jersey,” he added.

“The hope is that beyond this gathering that people go out and spread a message of acceptance and good will,” Zwicker said.

Monday’s rally is an outgrowth of an impromptu gathering of 75 people at the Unitarian Universalist Church on E. Cliff Street on Aug. 16, according to one of the organizers, Donna Volpe, who is the founder of the Somerville chapter of Hate Has No Home Here.

She and several others, angered by the violence and aftermath of the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month involving right-wing extremists felt the need to "do something," Volpe explained. Many who gathered for that rally expressed the need to further express their outrage and rejection of the extremists' agenda, prompting Volpe to reach out to friends of a similar mind.

“In the wake of the Charlottesville incident, I’ve heard so many people say ‘That’s not us;” ‘That’s not my town;’ “That’s not America.’ Unfortunately, it is,” Peter said.

“Yeah, there’s a problem, and we need to address that so that Somerville and Somerset County don’t get to that point,” he added.

Volpe, along with Kristen Mehrbach, Andrea Stathatos, Michelle Edgar, Karen Gaffney and Jen Kitchen, have been busy the past 10 days planning the rally.

Their goal is to help facilitate understanding, unity and cooperation in the community through heightened awareness and getting people engaged, according to Mehrbach.

The Somerset County Diversity Cultural Coalition is sponsor of the event. Tulsi Maharjan, executive director, will speak at the rally.

Other speakers include State Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-16; Joe Forte, secretary of the NJ LGBT Democratic Caucus Victory Fund Campaign Board; M. Ali Chaudry, president, Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and co-founder, NJ Interfaith Coalition; Rabbi Dan Selsberg, Temple Sholom; Ron Isaacs, Rabbi Emeritus.Temple Sholom; Mark Williams, member AACT-NOW; Karen Gaffney, professor of English, Raritan Valley Community College and author of the soon-to-be-released book, "Dismantling the Racism Machine: A Manual and Toolbox;" Carina Gonzalez, Outreach Librarian and professor at RVCC and Aldo Martinez, immigration attorney.

Each of the speakers is limited to 3 minutes, according to Volpe; a separate “candidates’ corner’’ for those seeking elected office in November will permit those office seekers an opportunity to interact with the crowd.

Information tables for the various organizations expected will be available; the organizers will also have markers available for those interested to sign their sentiments on a “Community for Unity” banner that they hope will be displayed in a public place in Somerville at a later date, according to Volpe.

The women emphasize that their newly-formed grass roots organization is non-partisan and not affiliated with any political organizations. Volpe's Hate Has No Home Here, and the Central Jersey Community Coalition are also playing a part in the rally.

"We invite you to join us in promoting UNITY in our community and in all communities of conscience," is their message on the website.

Civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr. delivered his defining "I Have a Dream" speech 54 years ago on Aug. 28 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom;. He called for an end to racism in the United States and called for civil and economic rights. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the speech was a defining moment for the Civil Rights movement.

Borrowing from the theme of King's speech, Community for Unity offers the following message on its Facebook page:

"We Have a Dream---that all human beings, of all colors, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, nationalities, abilities, races, sexual orientations, religions, and economic backgrounds are treated EQUALLY under the law and are accepted as EQUAL in the hearts and minds of citizens here and everywhere.

"We Have a Dream---that within our lifetimes, rallies will not need to be held in order to promote the ideas of compassion, conscience, and connectedness.

"We Have a Dream---that all of us actively and vociferously reject the scourge of racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry whenever and wherever we witness it. Furthermore, we commit to confronting white supremacist ideology in our communities, institutions, and personal lives.

"This is our dream, and this is the reality we must work together to create."

Further information is available online at facebook.com/communityforunitynj/ 

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