Please click here to review the Quick Start Guide created by the Not In Our Town organization. I took a similar path in my town and want to share my personal experience of why and how I made connections to bring a diverse group of people together to fight hate. Perhaps my path will help you create your own.
Click here for the Facebook page we created for our new diverse group of leaders. Please join so you can stay updated and share ideas and resources with us.
One person can make a difference. When I heard about the national rise in hate crimes, and unreported hate incidents, I was dismayed, but I refuse to hide inside my family and myself and ignore it all. So I decided to do something and become a leader on this issue. With one phone call, and a meeting two days ago, a diverse group of community leaders and police officials made plans for a large-scale "Not In Our Towns" event, a hate crime Rapid Response team, support for each other at public and private events, sharing of police information about reporting hate crimes, providing information for undocumented immigrants about how the police want to protect them from harm, and committing to continue work together on new ideas as they are needed.
I wrote about what I did in a Facebook post that received thousands of comments and likes. People wrote "BRAVO!" "You are inspiring!" "Outstanding. Let's all do this in our towns" "Every positive action sends out ripples." People tagged their friends and began asking each other to join in to do this in their own towns. Many asked me to write this how-to guide so they could replicate our work in their own town. Yes, yes, yes! This is the ripple.
Step 1: First Contact
Email/call a local leader and ask for support and collaboration. I emailed a Rabbi at the synogague where I am a new member. You might call or email a leader in your faith group, community organization, a local politician, etc. Here is the sample email I sent that you can use to start the ball rolling. My comments to you are in brackets:
Subject: Idea to Discuss via Phone
I hope you are well. I am a new member of this synagogue, though my children have attended the nursery school for a few years. [Instead of the prior sentence, you might write a sentence or two about why you are reaching out to your particular person].
I am writing because I would like to set up a phone call to discuss a timely idea/project regarding hate crimes in the community. As a teenager on Long Island, I started a young adult ethnic coalition to combat hate crimes (as an addendum of an exiting adult coalition), and now, I feel that the time is right for adults to come together in Westchester for similar reasons. [Here, instead of the prior sentence, you might write a sentence about why you are so attune to hate crimes and interested in reducing hate. I recommend leaving the election out of it so the group can include police officials and politicians]. I have some specific ideas of how to do this and what the exact purpose and results would be. However, an idea in my head is nothing without partners and support. In addition, I think you may be privy to existing projects and networks that could coordinate or supersede some of the ideas that I have.
Please let me know when would be a good time to talk about this. On a side note, I'm a lawyer/mediator, speaker and author of books on communication and conflict resolution, including "Fight Less, Love More." [Instead of the prior sentence, personalize it to any work you have done relating to any of these issues. It could be work in human resources, communication, being a school teacher, being a parent who is protective of her children, really anything that shows you are bringing some skills to the table. If you think you have nothing to bring to the table you are dead wrong! You are already reading this and showing way more interest than most in reducing hate crimes. Interest and being willing to put in effort are huge things to bring to the table. I was named a "relationship expert" on TV morning shows and sometimes acquaintances would ask, "Why you? Why do you get to be a TV expert" And you know what I'd answer: "Why not me? Nobody comes down from heaven and declares anyone an expert or a leader. You declare yourself."]
[I got a response within a day and we set up a time to talk a few days later]
Step 2: The Call
Reiterate the email a bit by explaining that hate crimes are up and people are afraid, and that you want to do something to reduce hate crimes and reduce the burden of fear that is affecting people's lives. Then share an idea or two. Here's briefly how I shared the Rapid Response Team idea: "When the Swastika was painted on the jogging trail in White Plains, police and politicians arrived and talked to the press. That is fine, but what if we could have had a diverse group of leaders of different races, in different garbs, alongside them? What if the police could reach out to us after they secure the scene? And then what if we all cleaned it up together? The image in the paper sends a clear message that if you attack one, you attack us all. It says that we are unified against hate."
You may have another idea that is specific to your town and what it needs to feel safer. Be sure your idea is clear and actionable. Maybe something happened at a school in your town and you want to hold an event nearby and invite student leaders to show that together, we are all America. You could also share the idea about an event called "Not In Our Towns." I am using the plural so that we could include leaders from a few towns. Here is a blurb about the event we are doing:
Not In Our Towns
Westchester communities unite against hate
When: Tuesday, December 13 th, 2016 - 3:00pm
Where: The Dr. MLK, Jr. Statue, in front of the County Court House, 111 Martin Luther King Blvd.
Who: Leaders representing Muslim, Jewish, Christian, African-American, Asian-American, LGBTQ and Latino communities in Westchester, politicians and police, youth leaders, business and civic leaders, – all united against hate. Everyone is welcome to join us as we stand united against hate.
Why: To affirm together that there is no place for fear or bigotry or hate in our towns.
What: A joint statement read by members of the clergy; a charge from Mayor Tom Roach; a statement of support from County Executive Rob Astorino, a statement of support from Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a powerful photo of all of us: We are Westchester; We are America; and We are United against Hate.
Be sure to pause during the conversation and ask for input. You might discover that something similar happened in the past, or that a certain interfaith organization has an upcoming event that could be broadened to include your idea. Also, be clear from the start that you want to work with the police and help them. Police are very busy dealing with a lot of crimes all day. They would really like to end hate crimes and make the community feel safer. Assume this is true and work with that.
Before the call ends, make it clear that it would be great to gather forces in a group meeting to discuss these ideas and see if anyone has any others. Your contact may be thrilled with your ideas and eager to plan a meeting, but if he/she is a little hesitant, put your contact on the spot to reach out to others and ask who he/she is reaching out to. Think about an LGBQT representative, a Latino organization representative, Muslim leader and other minority groups in your community. If there is hesitation, make it easy for him/her. Offer to draft a blurb of this conversation so that he/she can forward the general idea to other community leaders to see if they would join a meeting. Also, ask your contact to reach out the Police Chief in your town and invite him/her to the meeting.
Step 3: The Group Meeting
Attend the meeting. Share your reason for bringing people together (or let your initial contact do that since you are probably in his/her facility or office). People may or may not turn to you to lead the conversation. At our first meeting, people already knew each other and we did quick introductions and asked the Police Chief to speak first about hate crimes in the area. She shared facts and some thoughts, and then we turned to the religious leaders and asked if they've heard any stories from their memberships about any hate incidents that may not have been reported. After a brief conversation we brainstormed together and turned some ideas into action. We left with clear plans and a couple of potential dates for Not In Our Towns. We needed to reach the Mayor's office to make sure he could attend. We had a list of everyone's email and cell numbers. We outlined who would contact whom. I would draft a blurb and press release, etc. We left. Within two days the people at the meeting had talked about unifying against hate with other leaders, and people began saying they wanted to join too! It was wonderful. We turned the event from a White Plains event into a Westchester countywide event because leaders from lots of places in the county wanted to participate.
Step 4: The Event and Everything Else
Not In Our Towns was planned for about two weeks from the meeting date. I am still working with others to edit the press release and I will share it here early next week. We emailed out the event blurb (see above) to the people in our group. We contacted local politicians who are eager to attend. The police are helping to get us permission to gather outside. We reached out to youth leaders to invite them (we picked a 3pm time so they could join us). We're on a roll. I will be contacting local press next week when the press release is complete. My goal is to have more than a photo op, but to use the event to sustain lengthier interviews that lead to feature articles about standing together.
I also have to make sure to follow up on our other ideas that go beyond this event as well. I am working on that. Our group meeting was November 30, 2016. As I write this it is Dec. 2, 2016. I will publish the Not In Our Towns press release next week and keep everyone updated. Thank you!
Update: If you'd like a copy of our press release or our agenda for the event, email me at email@example.com. Happy to send it your way.
Hope this helps you get on the move! Any questions or comments? Please email me